Caesarean section
Posted: 27 September 2017 11:13 PM   [ Ignore ]
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The name of the operation—cesarean section, in full—has been associated with Julius Caesar (100-44 B.C. ) since classical times, the supposition being he was cut from his mother’s womb. Even Pliny the Elder (A.D. 23-79) thought that the operation’s name came from the Emperor’s surname. However, the belief is almost certainly wrong for two reasons: first, the family name, from caesus, the cut one, was established long before Caesar’s birth; second, Caesar’s mother survived his birth for many years...Most likely, the name of the operation derives simply from, caesus, past participle of cadere, to cut, which was confused almost immediately with Caesar...The earliest example of Caesarean section in the OED comes from 1615, though a detailed report exists of the performance of the operation on a living woman in Germany in 1610. Shakespeare also alluded earlier to the operation, but not by name, in Macbeth (1606). The witches told Macbeth that he could not be killed by “one of woman born” leading him to think himself invulnerable, a fatal mistake, as he learns too late that his final opponent, Macduff, was not born in the natural way, “but from his mother’s womb untimely ripped.” Shakespeare took this eleventh-century story from Raphael Holinshed’s Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland (2nd edition, 1587).

From: Devious Derivations by Hugh Rawson

Is this just another seemingly credible hypothesis?

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Posted: 28 September 2017 02:59 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Rawson is confusing the name of the operation with Caesar’s name. The family name probably does not come from the method of surgical delivery of a child. But the name of the operation does indeed come from the belief that Julius Caesar was delivered surgically. That the belief is mistaken is irrelevant. People believed it and the operation is named for Caesar. Rawson’s invocation of Pliny is odd, since the term Cesarean section doesn’t arise until over a thousand years after Pliny died. As far as I know, Romans did not refer to the operation as a Cesarean, although they may have believed Julius was delivered by one.

The reference to Macbeth is also irrelevant to the origin, as neither the play nor Holinshed uses the term. Surgical deliveries have been used since antiquity, and there are numerous references to them. Until modern times, the mother almost invariably died, but it was resorted to from time to time in order to save the child. But they were not called Cesarean sections until the seventeenth century (possibly a bit earlier in Latin writings).

See the Big List.

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Posted: 28 September 2017 06:17 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Now that we’ve settled the original question, a related story from Russian literature: Vasily Aksyonov was one of the most popular Russian writers in the ‘60s and ‘70s; on of his later works is called in Russian Kesarevo svechenie ‘Caesarean luminescence,’ which is a pun on kesarevo sechenie ‘Caesarean section’… but the pull of the latter is so strong that lots of people, even specialists in Russian literature, think that that’s the title of the book.  I’ve seen it listed that way on Russian websites.  Beware the too-clever pun, people!

Interestingly, the Russian equivalent of Caesar is Цезарь [tsezar’] (Gaius Iulius Caesar = Гай Юлий Цезарь), but kesarevo sechenie is based on the earlier Church Slavonic form кесарь [kesar’], and both forms are doublets of царь [tsar’] ‘tsar.’

The site won’t let me link directly to the Wiktionary pages for the Russian words, so here they are:
кесарь https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/кесарь
царь https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/царь#Russian

Edit: Bah, those links don’t work either!  Just google кесарь and царь if you’re curious.

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Posted: 28 September 2017 09:02 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Somewhat surprisingly, the OED states that Julius was actually born that way:

2. (Also with lower-case initial): spec. (in Obstetrics) Caesarean birth n. (also Cæsarean operation, Cæsarean section) the delivery of a child by cutting through the walls of the abdomen when delivery cannot take place in the natural way, as was done in the case of Julius Cæsar. Also fig.

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Posted: 28 September 2017 10:27 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Dr. Techie - 28 September 2017 09:02 AM

Somewhat surprisingly, the OED states that Julius was actually born that way:

It’s an old entry.

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Posted: 28 September 2017 12:42 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Pliny the Elder didn’t write that Julius Caesar was born by C section but theorised that one of his ancestors had been so born, the name thus attaching to the family from the operation rather than the other way round, although there’s no evidence for this other than the name itself, from Latin caedere, to cut. Julius Caesar was born quite normally, as most Romans would have known. The Lex Caesaria, established by Numa Pompilius in the 7th century BC, stated that if a pregnant woman died the baby should be cut from the womb.

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Posted: 28 September 2017 03:12 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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But the name of the operation does indeed come from the belief that Julius Caesar was delivered surgically. That the belief is mistaken is irrelevant. People believed it and the operation is named for Caesar.

But the family name, comes from caesus, the cut one, and was established well before Caesar’s birth. The operation must have had a name prior to Caesar’s birth.

Another suggestion is that the name of the procedure (caesarian, caeserean, and ceserian are also acceptable spellings) comes from Roman law requiring that the belly of any woman who died near term be cut open in order to rescue her infant. The law was supposedly codified as lex regia during the reign of Numa Pompilius (ca. 750 B.C.) and renamed lex caesara in Julius’s time, but the authenticity of this law is highly suspect, considering the early date at which it is said to have been enacted.

Devious derivations Hugh Rawson

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Posted: 29 September 2017 03:32 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Logophile - 28 September 2017 03:12 PM

But the family name, comes from caesus, the cut one, and was established well before Caesar’s birth.

That hasn’t been definitively established. The name may come from caesaries, or hair. Somebody in the family may have had some really good hair on his head. (The Latin word is almost always applied to men.)

The operation must have had a name prior to Caesar’s birth.

Not necessarily. There’s no particular reason it should have had a particular name, as opposed to a general term for surgery, which would also apply to all sorts of procedures. While far from unknown in ancient times, it’s not like it was an especially common procedure—no surgery was. And if it did, it has nothing to do with the origin of the modern term. We must remember not to confuse the label with the thing itself.

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