What’s the root of the word panacea?

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Increase your vocabulary and you’ll make your writing much more precise. That’s why I provide a word of the week. Today’s word: panacea.

I can’t recall when I learned the word panacea, but I’ve loved it ever since. For more than 40 years, I’ve known it means a cure-all or remedy for all ills or difficulties. And I enjoy the way the four syllables trip off my tongue.

I stumbled across the word recently, in an Adam Gopnick piece on gun control. Written in 2012, the piece was highlighted in the New Yorker website in view of the Charleston, South Carolina shooting. Here is how he used the word in his piece, headlined, “The Truth About Gun Control.” (He favours it, as do I.)

Gun control is not a panacea, any more than penicillin was. Some violence will always go on. What gun control is good at is controlling guns. Gun control will eliminate gun massacres in America as surely as antibiotics eliminate bacterial infections.

I’ve never known the root of the word but always assumed, rather vaguely, that it was Greek. (Something about the -ea ending tipped me off.)

In fact, my etymological dictionary tells me that the noun is both Greek and Latin. The Latin comes from panacea, which was an herb reputed to heal all illnesses. And the Greek is from panakeia meaning “cure-all,” which in turn comes from pan- meaning “all” and from amos, meaning “cure.”

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