Sunday, January 15, 2023

"Some useless, although probably harmless, concoction": The unnamed "placebo effect" in Shirley Jackson's "The Third Baby's the Easiest" (1949)

In Shirley Jackson's "The Third Baby's the Easiest" (1949), which she incorporated into her memoir "Life Among the Savages" (1953), the pregnant narrator receives a shot in the hospital, and wonders about its effect: "[...] I am always afraid with nurses that they feel that the psychological effect of a hypodermic is enough, and that I am actually being inoculated with some useless, although probably harmless, concoction." She may not call it a placebo, but the concept long predates the twentieth century, as does "placebo" itself, which derives from the Vulgate Latin of Psalm 116:9: "Placebo Domino in regione vivorum" ("I will please the Lord in the land of the living"). (Andrew Shields, #111words, 15 January 2023)

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