Word of the Day – Caduceus

Word of the Day : April 16, 2020


noun – kuh-DOO-see-us


  • the symbolic staff of a herald; specifically : a representation of a staff with two entwined snakes and two wings at the top
  • a medical insignia bearing a representation of a staff with two entwined snakes and two wings at the top:
    • one sometimes used to symbolise a physician but often considered to be an erroneous representation
    • the emblem of a medical corps or a department of the armed services (as of the United States Army)

Did you know?

The Greek god Hermes, who served as herald and messenger to the other gods, carried a winged staff entwined with two snakes. The staff of Aesculapius, the god of healing, had one snake and no wings. The word caduceus, from Latin, is a modification of Greek karykeion, from karyx, meaning “herald.” Strictly speaking, caduceus should refer only to the staff of the herald-god Hermes (Mercury to the Romans), but in practice the word is often applied to the one-snake staff as well. You might logically expect the staff of Aesculapius to be the symbol of the medical profession—and indeed, that is the symbol used by the American Medical Association. But you will also quite frequently see the true caduceus used as a medical symbol.


“The tattoo starts at Harry Crider’s left shoulder…. It’s a caduceus—a long staff, wrapped by intertwining snakes and topped with a pair of wings.” — Zach Osterman, The Indianapolis Star, 20 Sept. 2019

“Symbols commonly associated with the medical or pharmaceutical professions would also be prohibited from being used by cultivation facilities or dispensaries under SB441. Items specifically mentioned include a cross of any color, a caduceus, ‘or any symbol that is commonly associated with the practice of medicine, the practice of pharmacy, or health care in general.'” — Scott Liles, The Baxter Bulletin (Mountain Home, Arkansas), 28 Feb. 2019.

Merriam-Webster Word of the Day