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 Texas : Features : Columns : "It's All Trew"

Romans say
take your meds and pray

by Delbert Trew
Delbert Trew

I have often wondered where the big R with the little x mark used on medical prescriptions originated. An old 1949 Coronet Magazine (remember those?) offered an explanation.

It seems early Roman "druggists" evolved from early day tribal medicine men and began concocting certain ingredients for relief from maladies. They called these mixtures "recipes" like a chef would create and record in a cook book.. The letter R in the Roman alphabet means "to take." So we have a recipe the druggist mixed for us to take. Now, at the time medicine was crude and uncertain so to aid in the cure offered, the druggist made the little cross on the leg of the R to remind the patient to pray for recovery from the malady. Take the recipe and pray.

The symbol is still in vogue today, maybe more so than ever. All medicinal advertisements present a paragraph touting the good, and several pages of fine print warning of the bad. So, we now should "take our recipe and pray the recipe doesn't kill us."

Among my collections of antique oddities I acquired a small cast-iron pot with two spouts opposite each other looking like a teapot with two spouts. It had a lid at one time and a wire bail for carrying. The spouts contain wicks to light, the cast-iron pot is heavy, hard to tip over and definitely not a kitchen or railroad utensil.

An oil-field magazine recently featured the item in an article titled "The Yellow Dog Lantern." It was patented in 1870 stating, "for illuminating out of doors especially derricks and places in the oil field where explosions are eminent."

The lantern burns fresh crude oil showing a yellow glow instead of a flame thus making it somewhat safer around explosive gasses. The Yellow Dog name comes from workers who used the device stating, "the two spouts glowing in the night resemble a dog's yellow eyes. The price was listed in equipment catalogs as $1.50 each in 1884.

I once bought a bucket of old tools at a farm auction. One item was a large keylike item with big ears, threads on the other end and was galvanized to prevent rust. The item was very familiar to me but I could not place the use. I knew I had seen it before on some kind of machine. I added it to my display board of "whatsits" and carried it to tool shows for two years. The key seemed familiar to everyone but no one could name its use.

Finally, at an antique farm machinery show near Perryton a tall elderly woman wearing the traditional attire of the Mennonite religion stood looking at my display board. When I pointed out the key, she said, "Young man, I've worn out two or three of those keys in my life."

What was it? It was the adjusting key on top of a clothes wringer opening or closing the rubber rollers that wrung out the wash water from clothes. Sure, I could see it plain as day. But, by itself, mounted on a board, it just didn't compute.


Delbert Trew
"It's All Trew" January 27, 2008 Column
E-mail: trewblue@centramedia.net.
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