Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Cucurbitula

Today's word-of-the-day on the Forgotten English desk calendar (c2006, Jeffrey Kacirk) is cucurbitula, defined as: "A glass vessel which, having its air rarified, gives room for that contained in the part to which it is applied to expand itself, and bring with it such humours as it is involved in." Not a very elegant explanation, which probably explains why writer Daniel Fenning did not go on to achieve household-name status like his lexicographical competitor Noah Webster.

Edward Lloyd's Encyclopedic Dictionary (1895) distinguished between the different types of cucurbitulae: "The cucurbitula cruenta is designed to draw blood. The cucurbitula sicca is for dry-cupping, and is a local vacuum apparatus. The cucurbitula cum ferro is armed with iron."

By the time they were being cataloged for our Medical Museum Collection in the 1970s, they were all referred to with the generic label "cup." We have digital photographs of most of our cupping sets which you can browse through in the Digital Resources Library.

Cupping is still employed as a therapeutic technique by modern practitioners of alternative medicine; you can investigate some of the books on cupping held at the National College of Natural Medicine just down the Hill in our combined library catalog.

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