Please, please meBMJ 1999; 318 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.318.7185.716 (Published 13 March 1999) Cite this as: BMJ 1999;318:716
- Jeff Aronson, clinical pharmacologist
Many words change their meaning with the years, and in some cases the new meaning is the opposite of the old, or at least at a tangent to it. A well known example is prestigious, which originally meant deceitful and now means esteemed. I am not sure, but I think that placebo may be in that camp.
The standard etymology is that placebo is the first person future indicative of the Latin word placeo, I please—that is, placebo=I shall please. But I don‘t think it's as simple as that.
The word first entered the English language through its erroneous use in a Latin translation of verse 9 of Psalm 116, which in Hebrew transliteration is “et‘halekh liphnay adonai b‘artzot hakhayim.” This is correctly translated in the King James version as “I will walk before the Lord in …