Hot Air: Words & War

[Another in a sporadic series of rants about language.]

I first heard (or, more accurately, read) the word some 25 or so years ago.


I hated the sound of it. Like all good readers, I sound a new word both in my head and aloud.


It’s clumsy. Contrived.

The more I saw of it, the more I realized it was a marketing tool. “Natural” food companies and alternative medicine hawkers seemed to fall in love with the word overnight. Buy their spelt bread or homeopathic remedies, these sellers said, and you’ll come ever so fabulously and wonderfully closer to the nirvana that is wellness.

Then the traditional medical establishment and the health insurance rackets caught up to the word. Doctor’s offices became wellness centers. HMOs urged their members to strive every second of the live-long day for wellness.


We have, I said to the empty room, a perfectly good word already for it. We say health.

Health, though, was old hat. Health is what’d been pushed by those corrupt doctors who put guns to patients’ heads to get them to demand more pills that’d get them to sleep at night or relieve them of unpleasant thoughts of sadness or loss. By gosh, these new marketers swore, you don’t need Ambien™ to get you to sleep! Get off that Prozac™, you fools!

Ugh, pills! We’re all — doctors and patients — under the thumb of those sinister, mighty pharmaceutical companies. Instead, take our pills! Wanna sleep, pop a Nux Moschata. Depressed? Try curkuma longa.

Health is not just old school — it’s bad for you.

Wellness. Ah. Green leaves and flowing brooks. Fresh air. Nutmeg. And turmeric.

Yep. That’s what Nux Moschata and curkuma longa are, respectively. Nutmeg and turmeric. I wonder if spice cake bakers and mustard preparers discovered the miraculous benefits of those two key ingredients in their products.

I mentioned this bugbear to a friend. She said, Hey, whatsa matter with you? Don’t you want a lively, evolving language?

Sure I do. I just don’t want snake oil salesmen and health insurers’ advertising agencies driving that evolution.


Ever hear of a fellow named Two Stickney?

What’s that? You haven’t? Why, this is an outrage! He was, in fact, an heroic combatant in one of our growing nation’s lengthiest wars. From 1820 through 1836, the state of Ohio and the territory of Michigan fought a bloody border battle, one of the participants of which was the future Confederate General Robert E. Lee, at the time a lieutenant in the US Army.

Background: Benjamin Franklin Stickney, for a time a Hoosier who lived near Ft. Wayne, has been described as an historian, linguist, author, mineralogist, land speculator, spy, postmaster, justice of the peace, Indian agent and newspaper publisher. He was the son of a niece of Benjamin Franklin himself. He went on to become one of the founders of the city of Toledo (Ohio).

Stickney was an oddball, too. Witness the names he bestowed upon his two sons: One and Two. He wanted to name his three daughters after states but his wife refused until the third girl was born. She was dubbed Indiana. He was one of the most powerful white settlers in northern Ohio. He proposed to flood a seven-mile-wide stretch of plain between the Wabash and Maumee rivers as part of a plan to create a waterway from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico.

That waterway would make his land near Toledo extremely valuable. But Ohio had hefty property taxes. So Stickney persuaded the residents of the area to secede from Ohio and become part of the Michigan Territory, where he wouldn’t have to pay taxes. He finagled getting himself named justice of the peace of the secessionist area and then when the people of Michigan exhibited no interest in having Toledo become a port on the proposed waterway, he threw his loyalties back to Ohio. He convinced the residents of the newly-attached part of Michigan to vote to reattach themselves to their original state. In any case, the issue of where the border between the two states should be became hot enough that militias were called up. For thirteen years, armed men faced off against each other — and shots were fired — in what would become known as the Toledo War. By the mid-1830s, militiamen from Michigan were rounding up leaders of the Toledo re-secessionist movement and throwing them in prison, Stickney included.

Hostilities only ceased when the US Congress in 1836 ruled Toledo to be part of Ohio and, to keep Michigan happy, gave it what’s now known as the Upper Peninsula when it applied for statehood.

BTW: Recall me mentioning the Toledo War being a bloody conflict? It was. In 1835, a Monroe County (Michigan) sheriff’s deputy grabbed Two Stickney by the shoulder in an attempt to arrest him. Two shouted “Damn you, sir!” and stabbed the deputy in the thigh with his pocket knife. Two escaped by horse to the safety of Ohio proper.

No one else was hurt in the war and no one was killed.

[Thanks to Steve Volan for the tip.]

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