Aronson, Stanley M


Long before the endocrinologists and geriatricians specified the way-stations in the human journey from birth to death, Shakespeare had provided us with a most memorable set of definitions of the seven states of life. Thus, the seventh stage [As You Like It: II, vii]:

With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;

His youthful hose, well sav’d, a world too wide

For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,

Tuning again toward childish treble, pipes And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,

That ends this strange eventful history, Is second childishness, and mere oblivion, Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

Life’s odyssey begins with infancy, a word derived from the Latin, infantem, which in turn is from the Latin fantis, meaning to speak, joined with the negative prefix, in-, thus rendering the word defining those who cannot speak. The daughters of the kings of Spain and Portugal were called infanta and the sons, infante, although there is little historic data to suggest that they were aphasie. And through an inexplicable etymologic pathway, the English word, infantry, is also a descendant of the Latin, infantem. A remotely cognate Greek word is the origin of the English word, fantasy.

The word, adolescent, is derived from the Latin, adolescens, meaning to grow up. And adult is from the Latin adultus, meaning grown up. Adultery and adulterate, despite the many jokes, are derived not from adultus but from the Latin prefix ad- [meaning toward or addition to], and the Latin alterare-, [meaning to change or corrupt.]

Puberty stems from the Latin pubertas, meaning capable of procreation and is additionally related to the word, pubic, meaning the genital region or the body hair symbolic of sexual maturity. And the word, maturity, stems from the Latin, maturis, meaning ripe or awakening. The goddess of dawn in the Roman pantheon is named Matuta. Menopause is the descendant of two Greek words, one, meno- signifying the moon or the month, and pauses, meaning to cease.

Senior, from the Latin, senis, meaning old, is the origin of such words as senor, monsieur and sire. And a related Latin word, senilis, forms the basis for such English words as senile, senate and seneschal.


Copyright Rhode Island Medical Society Aug 2005

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