Word of the Week: Hygiene

Hygiene is a noun and is defined by the World Health Organization as conditions and practices that help to maintain health and prevent the spread of diseases.

Hygiene is one of the many words in the English language that has its roots in Greek mythology. In this case, the word hygiene derives from the Greek goddess of cleanliness Hygieia.

Hygieia is one of the daughters of the Greek god of medicine Asclepius. In fact, Asclepius had five daughters who were all associated with health or healing; his daughters included Hygieia the goddess of cleanliness, Iaso the goddess of recuperation from illness, Aceso the goddess of the healing process, Aegle the goddess of good health, and Panacea the goddess of universal remedy. 

Hygieia and her father Asclepius are often symbolized holding a snake since the snake was a deity associated with healing and medicine. Even though you might not realize, you’re most familiar with the Rod of Asclepius, a snake wrapped around a rod, as the image commonly seen in hospitals and doctor’s offices. 

Even the original Hippocratic Oath, which is an oath taken by new physicians, honored Hygieia, her father, and her sisters in the first line: “I swear by Apollo Healer, by Asclepius, by Hygieia, by Panacea, and by all the gods and goddesses, making them my witnesses, that I will carry out, according to my ability and judgment, this oath and this indenture.”

 However, today’s oath had been modified and the first line now states “I swear to fulfill, to the best of my ability and judgment, this covenant: I will respect the hard-won scientific gains of those physicians in whose steps I walk, and gladly share such knowledge as is mine with those who are to follow.”

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“Hygiene.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary
Hippocratic oath
World Health Organization

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