A Turkomanic people living southeast of the Caspian Sea and ruled by Scythian nomads, the Parthians were soldiers known to be among the best. Their country was Parthia, and they devoted their lives to becoming expert marksmen and fighters. They rode their horses, fully armored, and their slaves served as infantry. They bested the Roman hordes time and again, beginning with the disastrous defeat of Crassus in 53 B.C. Years later they defeated Mark Antony by repulsing his advance into Persia.
The Parthians were deadly adversaries. They planned their aggressive movements strategically. One of their peculiar maneuvers was to appear to leave the battleground as though in flight, but as the enemy began to rejoice, they turned and discharged their bows. This maneuver has come to be known as the Parthian shot or the parting shot.
Today any parting or final remark of an insulting nature made on departure and giving one’s adversary no time to reply may be called a Parthian shot, an allusion to the ancient warriors of Parthia.


C. Northcote Parkinson (1909-1993), Raffles Professor of History at the University of Malaya, expounded his satirical «law» in 1955 in the Economist. His collection of essays on bureaucratic overload promulgated in book form in 1957 made this historian and economist an unexpected celebrity.
Parkinson’s law reads as follows: «Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion», and the law conversely stated is: «The amount of work completed is in inverse proportion to the number of people employed» and subordinates multiply at a fixed rate regardless of the amount of work produced». This is somewhat similar to the Law of Diminishing Returns. The law applies equally both to public and to business administrations, its purpose being to call attention to inefficiency in the operation of any bureaucracy, public or private.


James Parkinson (1755-1824) was an English surgeon who first described the condition in a paper published in 1817, An Essay on the Shaking Palsy. The disease is known as shaking palsy or paralysis agitans, a literal translation of the Latin.
Parkinson’s disease is a progressive disorder of the nervous system characterized by slowness of voluntary movements, muscular rigidity, tremor of resting muscles, a masklike facial expression, stooped posture, and a small-stepped walk without the normal arm swing.
Parkinson was also one of the first to describe the disease of appendicitis and to point out that the perforation of the appendix may be a cause of death.
Despite all his medical research, he found time for politics and was elected to the House of Parliament. He fought for universal suffrage and was concerned about health care and the rights of the insane. He became so involved in politics that he was suspected of participating in a proposed plot to assassinate George III in the theater by means of a poisoned dart, the so-called «pop-gun plot». He was examined before the privy council and was found not guilty of complicity.


A Pariah for some three thousand years was a member of a lower caste in India called, in Tamil, Paraiyan, from Southern India. Pariahs were drum beaters. At certain Hindu festivals, the beating of drums plays an important part. When the British came to India, they employed these lower-caste people as domestics and as servants to whom they assigned other duties. The British corrupted their name to pariah with a lowercase p. The continental Europeans, thinking that these people were the lowest caste, or even of no caste at all, adopted their mistaken term to mean the equivalent of outcast. Their employers ranked them at the bottom of the social scale. And the sense of that word — an outcast — was imported to England and was adopted into the English language.


The Pap test, a stain-analysis technique for identifying atypical cells and malignancy in cervical-tissue smears, was the invention of George Nicholas Papanicolaou (1883-1962). In the test he devised, a small spatula is inserted into the vagina to remove fluid mixed with urine cells. The fluid is dyed, spread on a glass slide, and examined under a microscope.
Papanicolaou was born in Greece and received a medical degree at Athens and a doctorate in biology at Munich. He immigrated to America in 1914 and became a teacher of medicine. He held a position in pathology at New York Hospital and concurrently taught anatomy at Cornell Medical College. Toward the end of his life he directed the Miami Cancer Institute, which after his death was renamed in his honor.
The medical profession was slow to accept his test, the research for which was begun in the 1920s. It was not until 1942 that a monograph Papanicolaou wrote with Herbert Traut, Diagnosis of Uterine Cancer by the Vaginal Smear, changed clinical opinion to his favor by demonstrating the value of early detection.
Today the Pap smear is a routine screening test, and is credited with substantially reducing the mortality rate of uterine and cervical cancer.


For decades in England no gentleman would dare be seen wearing what were mockingly called pantaloons. No less a national hero than the Duke of Wellington was refused admittance to a club because he was wearing long pants rather than the breeches and silken hose expected of a member of royalty or another person of high rank. The pants worn in America by almost every man and many women is an abbreviation of pantaloons.
The forebear of these articles of dress can be traced to the baggy trousers worn by a character in the Italian commedia dell’arte. A physician had been the patron saint of Venice — San Pantaleone. (The literal meaning is «all lion». Pan means all, and leone is «lion».) Pantaleone in the comedies was an elderly buffoon interested only in lechery, but who was usually outwitted by the women. He was always played as an emaciated dotard, wearing spectacles, one-piece, skintight breeches, and stockings that bloomed out above the knees. The passing years has transmogrified this patron saint of Venice into a lovable but simpleminded character in Italian comedy.
With a slight orthographic change to pantaloon, his name was then equated with «clown». The word in plural form (pantaloons) subsequently entered the English language to describe a particular type of trousers. As fashions changed, pantaloons became the name of various types of trousers over the years. In time it was used in the shortened form of pants as the designation for trousers in general.


The expression Pandora’s box may be a good warning to apply to a situation in which it is wise to keep matters under control and under cover, lest a worse situation develop. Or, as it’s said on the street, «Don’t open up a can of worms».
In Greek mythology, Pandora was the first woman. She was created by Zeus to discredit Prometheus, who had acted as a friend of mortals by bringing them fire. Pandora, which means «all gifts», was fashioned by the smith of the gods, Hephaestus, out of clay, given life and clothes by Athena, granted beauty by Aphrodite so that men would love her, and taught guile and treachery by Hermes. The gods also gave into Pandora’s hands a sealed jar containing all the evils that were ever to plague mankind; the only good it contained was Hope, right at the bottom.
Zeus gave Pandora — and her gift — to Epimetheus, Prometheus’s brother, who accepted her as his bride. Prometheus had warned his brother never to accept a gift from Zeus, but Epimetheus opened the jar, and out of it flew all the sorrows, diseases, quarrels, and woes that have ever since afflicted human beings. He hastily snapped the lid back on, but it was too late to prevent the torrent of evils escaping into the world. Some accounts say that the spirit Hope also escaped, but others say Hope was trapped inside, unable to alleviate the ills that were now released to bedevil mortals. Some versions say that Pandora opened the jar, and blame her curiosity for the ruin of mankind.
To open a Pandora’s box is to uncover a source of troublesome problems, or to receive a gift that turns out to be a curse.


The verb pander means to cater to, or profit by, the vices of others. But for centuries it meant to act as a go-between in clandestine love affairs.
Pandaro was a character in Boccaccio’s Hlostrato. He was the cousin of Cressida and, living up to his unsavory reputation, acted as go-between in her affair with Troilus. Chaucer took him over in his Troilus and Criseyde as Pandarus, changing him from cousin to uncle but retaining his unsavory role. His name came to be used as a generic term for «an arranger of sexual liaisons». In each instance Pandaro or Pandare obtained Cressida’s favors for the pleasure of Troilus, son of the king of Troy. But the match did not last long. Cressida deserted her lover for a Greek. Shakespeare through Pandarus intoned: «Since I have such pains to bring you together, let all pitiful goers-between be call’d to the world’s end after my name; call them all Pandars».
The sense of pander in today’s contemporary usage is to appeal to someone’s lower tastes or lower nature. It might be said of anyone who gains power and popularity by arousing the emotions and prejudices of people. Such a person might also be called a demagogue.


In the Greek religion, Pan, a god of forests and fields, of flocks and shepherds, came from disputed parentage. He is represented with the torso of a man and the legs, horns, and ears of a goat. Because he dwelt in the woodlands, any weird sound or eerie sigh emanating at night from the mountains or valleys was attributed to him. Pan was a mischievous creature and loved to dart out of underbrush and shout at people just to startle them. A panic is caused by overpowering fear. In its theatrical sense, however, panic has an opposite connotation — to amuse to the point that the audience is hysterical with laughter.
Sex and music were Pan’s chief interests. He was often portrayed playing his panpipes or dancing with nymphs. He set his lustful eye one day on a nymph named Syrinx. But she fled from him to preserve her chastity and was transformed into a bed of reeds. Pan cut the reeds into unequal lengths and fashioned from them his syrinx or panpipe. Pan continued his amorous, lustful pursuits with other nymphs. Although his courtship of Syrinx proved fruitless, the anglicized name of his lovely nymph continues to this day, but in the form of a very ordinary device — a syringe (a Syrinx is the vocal organ of birds).
John Milton coined the word pandemonium in Paradise Lost in 1667. Milton wanted a word to represent a tumultuous disorder. It is used today to describe any wild, unrestrained uproar or any boisterous assembly. Where there is panic there is bound to be pandemonium.


The Roman god of medicine, Aesculapius, had seven daughters, among them Panacea and Hygeia, both of whose names have passed into common usage in English.
Panaceas’s name means «all-healing». The Greek form of her name was Panakeia, from pan, meaning all, and akeisthai, to heal. Hence the word panacea came to mean a cure-all, a universal medicine or remedy.
In the Middle Ages the search for a panacea was one of the selfimposed tasks of the alchemists, which they conducted when they weren’t busy transmuting a baser metal into gold. Fable tells of many panaceas, such as the Promethean Unguent, which rendered the body invulnerable; Aladdin’s ring; the balsam of Herabras; and Prince Ahmed’s apple, each reputed to be a cure for every disorder known to human beings.
Hygeia, from the Greek hygies, means health. The English word hygiene can be traced directly to her name. Hygeia was endowed with the power to ward off pestilence and to promote health. The preamble of the Hippocratic Oath says: «I swear by Apollo the healer, Asklepios, and Hygeia and Panacea and all the gods and goddesses...»