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I lead workshops at the British Library, on literature, language, art, history, and the culture of the book. Author of Discovering Words, Discovering Words in the Kitchen, Evolving English Explored, Team Talk - sporting words & their origins, Trench Talk - the Language of the First World War (with Peter Doyle); How to Cure the Plague; The Finishing Touch. As an artist I work in performance, public engagement, and intervention using drawing, curating, text, changing things and embroidery.

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Tuesday, 4 December 2012

For sinews that be broken in two

Take Wormes while they be knite, and looke that they departe not, and stamp them, and laye it to the sore, and it will knit the sinewes that be broken in two.
from The Good Huswife's Jewell, 1596

There's a mixture here of the doctrine of signatures and curiously possible viable medicine. The worms would be earthworms, 'knite' - that is knitted together, or mating. The instructions say that you must pulverise them before they separate. The intention here is to use two things which are more often separate, but at certain times come together. Mash them and you catch their 'essence of togetherness'. Current research in the west indicates that earthworms have antibacterial properties, though whether these would help to knit together torn sinews is not known. But certainly pulverised earthworm was a much-used ingredient in early modern western medicine, and is still used in the east. A sad end for them in this case, though following the established literary pattern of the lovers united in death.

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