81 (4) pp 237-246

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

In some languages, major changes in the veterinary profession are mirrored in the names usedby those engaged in this branch of medicine during different periods of history. These names weremost 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 themajor 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 theyhad to transport all burdens themselves.Horses became of paramount importance in warfare. Chivalry (cheval in French: horse) attaineda high status in mediaeval society. This high esteem for horses, horse riding and everything associatedwith it continued even after the horse had lost its military significance. We see this in terms suchas 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 originallymeaning ‘horse boy’. Similar titles were paardenmeester for ‘horse master’ in Dutch, and Rossarztor Pferdarzt in German.The terms veterinarian and vétérinaire, which are generally used in English and French, do notdifferentiate between the species and types of animals involved. This term, derived from the learnedLatin medicus veterinarius, was not created by the public, but rather was promoted by the early veterinaryschools and professional organizations. Its supposedly general meaning was most probablya factor that guided the choice of its use. Nobody alluded to its primary significance (etymology) involvingthe 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 slavishlabor, and from slavery itself, remains practically unknown. The term ‘veterinary’ has lost nothingof its forgotten original content. Knowledge about this may help to rehabilitate the humbledonkeys, the mules and other beasts of burden who delivered mankind from much arduous labor... and became our slaves.

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pp 237-246
Veterinary past