June 23rd, 2004
Statin / cachet vs. cache
by Barbara Wallraff
Benedict K. Zobrist, of Lake Lotawana, Mo., writes: “I am writing on behalf of a number of fellow patients in a prominent Kansas City hospital’s cardiac rehabilitation program. We seek to learn the origin of the word ‘statin,’ used to describe a category of lipid-lowering drugs. My fellow patients and I have written to the pharmaceutical companies Merck, Pfizer and Bristol-Myers Squibb, none of which could provide any information. Please help.”
Dear Benedict: Why am I not surprised that your correspondents at the pharmaceutical companies don’t seem to know Latin and Greek? “Stat” comes from the Latin participle “status,” meaning “stopped; halted,” and before that from the Greek verb “statos,” “to stop.” At least, that’s roughly what the discoverers of somatostatin — a hormone-inhibiting chemical compound that the body secretes — explained in the 1973 paper that announced their findings. “Somatostatin” was one of the earliest names to include “statin.” Though somatostatin is not a member of the class of drugs you’re asking about (drugs intended to stop the liver from producing excessive amounts of cholesterol), it was among the first substances to be given such a name.
Sam Culotta, of Covina, Calif., writes: “Has anyone else noticed that politicians often use the word ‘cachet’ to describe hidden stores of weapons? According to Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, the term for hidden stores of anything is ‘cache.’ Is this a case of ‘monkey hear, monkey say,’ or is my dictionary leading me astray?”
Dear Sam: Uh-oh — it’s not just politicians but journalists, too. For instance, in March this appeared on the Associated Press state and local wire: “glimpses of Bradley fighting vehicles, palace ruins, confiscated weapons cachets.” “Cache” means what you say it does and would have been the right word here. “Cachet” means something like “stamp of approval” or “prestige”; it originally referred to the seal on an official letter sent by the French king.
© Copyright 2003 by Barbara Wallraff. Reprints require prior permission. All rights reserved.