Peter R. Martin: Historical Vocabulary of Addiction. Opium


Peter R. Martin’s reply to Johan Schioldann’s comment


        I greatly appreciate Johan Schioldann’s informed etymologic comment.  The origins of the word opium should be sought prior to the era to which it was attributed in the original entry.  The word was not first described by Caius Plinius Secundus (23/24 – 79), or Pliny the Elder, the Roman author, naturalist and  natural philosopher, in his Naturalis Historia (Plinius Secundus 1866).  Rather, as Johan Schioldann indicates, we must begin the history of the word in Ancient Greece.   

        According to OED, the noun opium originated from the Hellenistic Greek ὄπιον (poppy juice, opium), which in turn, was from the ancient Greek ὀπός (vegetable juice) in combination with the diminutive suffix -ιον.  The true importance of opium to the ancient Greeks is perhaps best reflected by the fact that such a simple generic term as “vegetable juice” (in its diminutive form, no less) denoted the thickened dried latex of the unripe capsules of the opium poppy Papaver somniferum and that the ancients knew with some clarity its meaning from amongst the many other vegetables that were available to them.



Caius Plinius Secundus.  Naturalis Historia. Berolini; 1866-1882.


December 2, 2021