Morning name: ivermectin

My morning name on the 18th, a very useful medication. From Wikipedia:

Ivermectin [generic name; various brand names, e.g. Stromectol. Mectizan] is a medication that is effective against many types of parasites. It is used to treat head lice, scabies, river blindness, strongyloidiasis, and lymphatic filariasis, among others. It can be either applied to the skin or taken by mouth.

Ivermectin was discovered in 1975 and came into medical use in 1981. It is on the World Health Organization’s List of Essential Medicines, the most important medications needed in a basic health system. The wholesale cost is about US$0.12 for a course of treatment. In the United States it costs $25–50 [an economic/political side note, but an important one in light of the medication’s utility against some serious scourges].

More on the medication, then some flagrant silliness based on my understanding the name of the medication as a proper name Ivor MecTin, which will lead us to Ivor Novello and a gay world that was at once highly public and deeply secret.

Much more on the medication, from a Stanford — pardon my stutter — parasites site:

In 1975, workers at Merck laboratories were screening compounds for therapeutic effects with the strategy of developing them for veterinary use. They received 54 samples from the Kitsato Institute in Japan including some soil samples obtained from a Japanese golf course, one of which contained a factor with significant antiparasitic effects, which they called Avermectin. The structure of the compound was of a macrocylclic lactone, which is naturally produced in soil by Streptomyces avermitilis. This structure was further modified by reducing a single double bond to decrease its toxicity in animal studies and this new compound was called Ivermectin and marketed under the name Mectizan. While studying the response of equine Onchocerca cervicalis to this compound, Dr. William Campbell, leader of the Merck team and the scientist responsible for the development of thiabendazole, recognized the properties ivermectin possessed suggested its utility against River Blindess caused by the human parasite Onchocerca volvulus. With the encouragement of P. Roy Vaeglos, M.D. president of the Merck Research Laboratories, the company began seriously to consider the potential use of ivermectin in humans.

Medication names. The naming of medications, both generic and brand-named, is something of a mystery to outsiders, and often seems to involve the assemblage of vaguely suggestive elements from various sources. As in this case. The original generic name, avermectic, takes the aver- from the species name Streptomyces avermitilis (note: the Stanford site systematically refuses to put genus names in italics, treating this level of taxonomy as no more special than any other; this strikes me as entirely reasonable, but when in the past I’ve failed, through inadvertence, to italicize genus names, I’ve gotten raging mail accusing me of being a scientific illiterate). I’m guessing that the aver- here is related to the Latin root in English avert, so that S. avermitilis is a species that averts mites.

The element –mect– is still something of a mystery t0 me, though it obviously has something to do with parasites.

Ivor MecTin. Then to my playful reading of Ivermectin, as a name Ivor MecTin, crudely parallel to Evan MacKay (roughly ‘John, son of Kay’), but instead glossable as ‘Ivor [or Archer], guy of tin’ — itself crudely parallel to ‘Clark, man of steel’.

Three pieces here. The last is just the name of the metal tin (chemical element Sn), a useful but soft metal, inferior to steel (mostly carbon alloys of iron, chemical element Fe). Superman is the Man of Steel, but there’s no superhero known as the Man of Tin: instead, that would be the Tin Man (or Tin Woodman) from The Wizard of Oz, but he’s no superhero, though he does eventually get a heart.

The second part is French slang mec ‘guy, dude’, here replacing the Irish prefix Mac / Mc / M’ ‘son (of)’. That gives us the rather silly ‘guy of tin’.

The first part is the personal name Ivor, an originally Scandinavian male name adopted (thanks to Scandinavian settlers and invaders) in Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. The Old Norse name was apparently Ivarr (‘archer’), derived from the elements yr “yew, bow” and arr “warrior”. In British literature for a time, there was some tendency (in P.G. Wodehouse and Evelyn Waugh, for example) to use the name for upscale characters, perhaps under the influence of the real-life person Ivor Novello, whose matinee-idol good looks, commanding stage presence, and great charm made him a kind of icon of real class.

From Wikipedia:

David Ivor Davies (15 January 1893 – 6 March 1951), better known as Ivor Novello, was a Welsh composer and actor who became one of the most popular British entertainers of the first half of the 20th century.

… At about this time [early 1920s], Novello had an affair with the writer Siegfried Sassoon [about 5 years older than Novello]; it was short lived, but in the words of Sassoon’s biographer John Stuart Roberts, Novello “was a consummate flirt who collected [male] lovers as he gathered lilacs.”

Novello was a celebrity who everybody knew was gay though nobody acknowledged that publicly; at that time, homosexuality was  literally unspeakable. That put him in the company of Noël Coward (about five years younger than Novello and a great admirer of his, though eventually a professional rival; they don’t seem to have connected sexually) and Benjamin Britten and his lover Peter Pears (roughly 20 years younger than Novello).

The actor Robert (Bobby) Andrews was Novello’s life partner for 35 years, and they often acted together. Apparently everybody who mattered knew about their relationship, and about at least some of Novello’s short-term sexual connections, but all of this was sub rosa; it seems that not a word was uttered publicly.

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