Saturday, 24 July 2010

Word of the Week: Vomitorium

Noun. Pronounced: vomi-TOR-i-um
Listen to the word here.

A vomitorium.                            Photo courtesy: York University

Vomitoria at an ancient Roman amphitheatre. Photo courtesy: Sebastiá Giralt

The image that came to my mind, the first time I saw this word, was of a place meant for people to vomit in. It turned out to be something very different. And far more pleasant.

Vomitoria were the wide passageways in ancient amphitheatres through which large numbers of spectators could enter and exit. These days most sports stadiums and movie theatres have vomitoria.

Both vomit and vomitorium come from the Latin vomere, 'to spew forth, to discharge'.

Incidentally, amphitheatres were called so because they were circular in shape whereas theatres used to be semi-circular; the prefix amphi is Greek for 'both' or 'on both sides', hence a theatre on both sides would make an amphi-theatre. Clever!

A theatre.                                        Photo courtesy: Phil Gyford
An amphitheatre.                                  Photo courtesy: http2007

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