For some time I've been wondering why we, and our state, are in the state we are in. And I've come to the conclusion that we should blame it all on our prostates. But don't worry. I am not going to launch into a discussion about male anatomy, at least not only about it, for two reasons: A. prostates are apparently - according to recent scientific research - part of the female anatomy as well, and mainly, B. prostates, at least from the etymological point of view, are not the things that come to one's mind when one hears the term.
As used in the writings of Herodotus, Plato, Aristotle, Aeschylus and Sophocles, prostates, in Greek, is a singular noun meaning "one standing before," "leader" or "guardian." Indeed, Merriam-Webster tells us the word "prostate" in English derives from proistanai - to put in front, from pro- (before) + histanai (to cause to stand). Which logically means that Netanyahu, Barak, Olmert and even Livni were and are our prostatai. By the way, the Latin verb "prostare," to offer something for sale, is the basis for the English "prostitute," which makes one wonder in this context.
This raises the question of how this Greek word came to be associated mainly, if not solely, with a particular gland in the human body - one that is particularly prone to causing men over 50 no small amount of suffering (ironically, one of those is our former prostates, Mr. Olmert, now suffering from other sorts of discomfort due to his indictment in multiple corruption cases).
There are some very good reasons for the gland to be associated with the concept of "leader." For example, without going into too many details, it has a leading role in procreation. Another function - again without getting too anatomical - is serving as a guardian to prevent urine from flowing into the wrong places, something that even Talmudic sages were apparently aware of (Tractate Bechorot).
Oh, by the way, in the name of gender equality, it should be noted that "in 2002, female paraurethral glands, or Skene's glands, were officially renamed the 'female prostate' by the Federative International Committee on Anatomical Terminology" (Wikipedia). But the prostate actually got its name due to a series of medical and linguistic errors, and its presence - albeit not its function - in the male body has been known since ancient times. The story begins with Herophilus (335-280 B.C.E.), a Greek physician who is often called the "father of anatomy" and who gave the name parastatai adenoiedes to the seminal vesicles, located close to the prostate gland. Parastatai comes from a word which, among other things, means "helper or assistant": The use of the prefix "para" (next to), as opposed to the above-mentioned "pro," thus makes parastates (singular) mean "bystander."
Scientists spent many centuries involved in research - some of it based on autopsies (a practice introduced as part of medical studies during the Renaissance) - to understand and correctly describe the gland and its functions. In the late Middle Ages, some copies of Herophilus' work were printed that misspelled his term, parastatai, as prostatai. This mistake was perpetuated for posterity in 1600 when Andre du Laurens, a French anatomist, latinized the wrong Greek word, prostatai, and used prostatae instead in his work "Historia anatomica," to designate the gland. Shortly thereafter, the new Latin word he coined evolved into the English word we use today.
So much for the name of the organ in question. In returning to one of its functions - controlling, or sometimes, alas, obstructing the flow of urine - it is intriguing to consider the original Greek meaning of its name: leader. Especially, one is reminded of the very popular Hebrew expression that describes someone who thinks very highly of himself, and behaves in a manner that is not commensurate with his actual status or abilities: "hasheten ala lo larosh" - literally, "the urine has gone to his head."
The comparable English expression, "gone to his (or her) head," implies intoxication, usually alcoholic, as in: "You go to my head / You go to my head, / And you linger like a haunting refrain / And I find you spinning round in my brain / Like the bubbles in a glass of champagne" (in "You Go To My Head," written by Fred J. Coots and Haven Gillespie).
Furthermore, the British have an expression, "full of piss and wind," which means "all speech and no action, like many politicians" (from the Urban Dictionary site; the reference is from James Joyce's "Ulysses": "All wind and piss like a tanyard cat"). Here and elsewhere the idea of going to one's head is not alluded to, however.
This reminded me that once when our late cat, Rufus, suffered from an infection in his urinary tract, he started walking backward. I checked with my medical sources and found that in terms of behavior, high urea levels in the blood of humans may cause disorientation - but not pretentiousness.
In any event, I tried to find out more concerning the above-mentioned Hebrew expression in other languages, and found no parallels in Russian, Spanish, German, Arabic or Yiddish. Journalist and editor Ruvik Rosenthal, who recently compiled two seminal reference books, one on Hebrew slang and the other on Hebrew sayings, attributes the expression to the French "ne plus se sentir pisser" - meaning, literally, "[he] does not hear [or take notice] that he is taking a piss" - which also supposedly refers to someone who puts on airs. My French sources claim, however, that there is a much more common and olfactory expression for those like myself with unjustified claims to fame: "il pete plus haut que son cul," meaning literally "he farts higher than his ass."
Be that as it may, regardless of the language, I think you will agree that one of the gravest problems with prostates, in the non-glandular sense of the word, is that something, whether success or urine, tends to go to their heads. This leaves those of us whom they are supposed to lead, and whose interests they are supposed to guard, extremely pissed off.
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