Daily Archives: October 29, 2009


The first I ever noticed this word was in the title of a mystery novel: The Anodyne Necklace, by Martha Grimes. Although the book came out in 1983 and I first spotted it around 1990, I have yet to read it. But I immediately sought the meaning of anodyne. Had it to do with anodes? Negative. With dynes, perhaps? Not even if forced. No, relax… or it will relax you.

In spite of its echoes of iodine, you see, this word has no sting. Rather, its object takes away the sting – or other pain.  It comes to us from classical Greek an (a negating prefix) and oduné “pain.” So its object alleviates pain, soothes, calms… It is in service as both noun and adjective, and the adjective in particular has gained a more metaphorical, or at least intellectual, use that has been soothed down from “calming” to “inoffensive” and even to “vapid.” That’s quite a contrast to the off hint of dynamism and related words it can have.

And is the feeling of saying this word anodyne? It can be, if done slowly. Focus on the three taps of the tongue and the gaps between them: between [n] and [d] the tongue becomes concave, stretching up at the back while the lips round; then, between [d] and [n], the tongue rolls forward from the concave to a convexity, like an ocean swell rolling to shore. Perhaps like those recordings of soothing sea sounds so popular around the early 1980s.

And what is an anodyne necklace? It’s not simply some fashion accent soaked with opiate. In fact, it’s something sounding, appropriately, less likeable: a quack cure. Thanks to Ask the Quack I find that it was sold to worried parents in the early 18th century as a preventative of infant mortality, specifically to aid children in passing through teething, which was thought to be a cause of mortality (which makes the Tooth Fairy sound a bit like the Grim Reaper). A fake thread of web messages created from a real sequence of advertisements about it from the time may be read on Ask the Quack . Perhaps ironically, perhaps appositely, I find that reading advertising texts from that era has a calming effect on me, regardless of content. (It may be that I associate them with Wendy’s restaurants, which, in the 1980s, had reproductions of old ads on their tables.)

And why is Martha Grimes’s book named after it? Apparently it’s the name of a pub central to the book’s action. And certainly in pubs one may find anodynes, and in mystery novels one may find the neckless…