Veterinary Past

From mules, horses and livestock to companion animals: a linguistic-etymological approach to veterinary history, mirroring animal and (mainly) human welfare

Author
  • L. Devriese

Abstract

In some languages, major changes in the veterinary profession are mirrored in the names used by those engaged in this branch of medicine during different periods of history. These names were most often derived from the animal species that were of predominant importance in any given period. The terms veterinarius, mulomedicus (mule healer) and hippiater (horse doctor) reflect the major importance of these animals in Roman and Greek antiquity. Draft and pack animals (Latin: veterina) played a major role in the improvement of mankind’s living conditions. Without their help, men and women had to do all the heavy labor with the help only of primitive instruments, and they had to transport all burdens themselves. Horses became of paramount importance in warfare. Chivalry (cheval in French: horse) attained a high status in mediaeval society. This high esteem for horses, horse riding and everything associated with it continued even after the horse had lost its military significance. We see this in terms such as maréchal in French (meaning both ‘shoeing smith’ and ‘field-marshal’), marshal in English, maarschalk in Dutch, derived from an old Germanic word for ‘keeper of the horses’ but originally meaning ‘horse boy’. Similar titles were paardenmeester for ‘horse master’ in Dutch, and Rossarzt or Pferdarzt in German. The terms veterinarian and vétérinaire, which are generally used in English and French, do not differentiate between the species and types of animals involved. This term, derived from the learned Latin medicus veterinarius, was not created by the public, but rather was promoted by the early veterinary schools and professional organizations. Its supposedly general meaning was most probably a factor that guided the choice of its use. Nobody alluded to its primary significance (etymology) involving the care of ‘beasts of burden’, and it is a pity that almost no one any longer is aware of this. The enormous role that these humble animals once played in the liberation of mankind from slavish labor, and from slavery itself, remains practically unknown. The term ‘veterinary’ has lost nothing of its forgotten original content. Knowledge about this may help to rehabilitate the humble donkeys, the mules and other beasts of burden who delivered mankind from much arduous labor ... and became our slaves.

How to Cite:

Devriese, L., (2012) “From mules, horses and livestock to companion animals: a linguistic-etymological approach to veterinary history, mirroring animal and (mainly) human welfare”, Vlaams Diergeneeskundig Tijdschrift 81(4), 237-246. doi: https://doi.org/10.21825/vdt.v81i4.18338

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Published on
30 Aug 2012
Peer Reviewed