The beauty of lymph

We talked in class today about lymph, which is the clear fluid that flows through lymphatic vessels and lymph nodes and eventually returns to the blood. I mentioned that the etymology of the word lymph was beautiful but I didn’t want to take up too much class time talking about it – so I’m posting the story here.

How did lymph get its name? It turns out that lymph is a combination of a couple different words: the Latin lumpa, meaning water, and the Greek nymphe, meaning spring goddess. The resulting word – lympha in Latin, lymphe in French – means clear water or a goddess of water.

I just love this so much. First of all, lumpa sounds gross, and I wouldn’t want to have to deal with that word all the time. Second, we now have an accurate description (lymph does look like clear water) overlaid with a lovely, delicate image (spring water goddess). I mean, what more could you want?

Now every time I hear lymph, lymphatic, or lymphocyte, my brain will conjure up something like this:

This is Persephone, the Greek goddess, bringing spring to the frozen tundra.

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