generic name of alkaloid bodies formed from animal or vegetable tissues during putrefaction, 1880, from Italian ptomaina, coined by Professor Francesco Selmi of Bologna, 1878, from Greek ptōma "corpse," on the notion of poison produced in decaying matter. Greek ptōma is etymologically "a fall, a falling," perhaps a euphemism, via the notion of "fallen thing, fallen body;" a noun derivative of piptein "to fall" (from PIE *pi-pt-, reduplicated form of root *pet- "to rush; to fly"). The modern word is incorrectly formed, and Selmi is scolded for it by the OED, which says proper Greek would be *ptomatine.
updated on January 20, 2021
Dictionary entries near ptomaine