English : Placebo

What is the difference between placebo and panacea?

By Ms. Malathy, Sri Lanka - 16th March-2007.

First let's deal with the pronunciation of the two words. The
a in the first syllable of placebo is like the a in china. The following e is like the ee in see, bee, and free. The final o sounds like the oe in toe, doe, and Joe. The stress is on the second syllable ce.

The first
a in panacea is like the a in act, pact, and fact, while the second is like the a in china. The final cea rhymes with the words fear, dear, and cheer. The main stress is on the third syllable.

The Greek word
panacea means universal remedy. During the old days it was common practice for some people to claim that a certain herb could cure all diseases; they claimed that it was a panacea. We now know that there is no such herb. Though the word panacea continues to be used, the focus now has shifted from curing bodily ills to social ills.

Here are a few examples.

• America thinks that getting rid of terrorism is the panacea for the world's problems.

• Borrowing money from the World Bank may help. But it is not a panacea.

• Marrying someone rich is not the panacea for your problems, Krishna.

A
placebo, on the other hand, is a substance that is given to an individual instead of real medicine. We have met people who keep complaining about their health all the time. Every time you meet them, they have a different ailment. Most of the time the problems are imaginary. Some people visit the doctor and take great pleasure in explaining to him the various aches and pains. The doctor knows that the patient's illness is imaginary, but in order to please the patient he gives him tablets, which he recommends, should be taken every day. The tablets are not medicine, but sugarcoated pills.

The tablets are a placebo. They have no medicinal value. The patient after taking them, however, begins to feel better. As far as he is concerned he has become well because of the tablets that the doctor has given him. The imagined aches and pains disappear because the patient feels that he has been taking genuine medicine!

Here are a few examples.

• The doctor kept his colored placebos in the bottom drawer.

• He began to feel better after a couple of days. He didn't realize that what the doctor had given him was nothing more than a placebo.

• Maratha wasn't given the real drug, but only a placebo.



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