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2011 is World Veterinary Year, marking the 250th anniversary of the founding of the modern profession. However, the origins of the word ‘veterinary’ go back much further, as Bruce Vivash Jones explains
WHAT'S in a name? If the name you are investigating is ‘veterinary surgeon’, then the answer is, quite a lot – and the further you look, even more.
While there are ‘words’ (ie, from cuneiform script, hieroglyphics, Sanskrit characters and onwards) that are translated as ‘veterinarian’ going back to 3500BC, the first real use of the veterinary word can be dated from Roman times.
The Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology gives a present day meaning of ‘pertaining to the treatment of cattle and domestic animals’. A Latin root of veterinarius is cited, dating back to 200AD. This is formed from veterinus, pertaining to cattle, but perhaps formed from veter- or vetus meaning old, as if the original reference was to the animals' past work. The 18th century is given as the date of the first record of its use in the English language. However the term vétérinaire was already in use in France in the 17th century.
Websters Dictionary (USA) defines the Latin root as veterinus, as of or pertaining to yearlings and thus suggesting as a cognate term veteranus, from vetus – old as in veteran; but a diminutive form of vetus is vitellus – a calf or yearling. It all becomes rather complicated, the perfect playground for the lexicographer (although in this case one may prefer the older term, a glossographer).
Whatever the actual derivation it was in the Roman era that the veterinary term started to emerge. In the first century AD the term equarius medicus appears and is translated as ‘horse doctor’, to be followed by the end of the …