Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • n. Tolerance or immunity to a poison acquired by taking gradually larger doses of it.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. The development of immunity to a poison by gradual ingestion of successively greater amounts.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • n. Immunity against the action of a poison acquired by taking the drug in constantly increasing doses: a method said to have been conceived by Mithridates to protect himself against palace intrigues.

Etymologies

After Mithridates VI, who is said to have acquired tolerance for poison.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
From Mithridates (referring to Mithridates VI of Pontus) and -ism. First attested in 1851. (Wiktionary)

Examples

  • The old notion as to "mithridatism" was that an animal or a man would have to be separately prepared and

    More Science From an Easy Chair

  • I just ran into a nice word: mithridatism, named after Mithridates VI of Pontus, the phenomenon of partial immunity to poison acquired by taking small doses.

    Arsenic

  • It's hard not to think of Iocane powder; but arsenic is a classic real example of a poison where mithridatism is possible, as with the (possibly exaggerated) Arsenic Eaters of Styria, 19th century Austrian peasants who habitually ate, as a tonic, normally lethal doses of arsenic.

    Arsenic

  • This is the case of (relative) immunization or, as it is sometimes called, of mithridatism.

    Charles Richet - Nobel Lecture

  • One of my personal favorites in this category is mithridatism

    VERBATIM: The Language Quarterly Vol XIX No 3

  • The question of whether proper names of people and places have a rightful place in a dictionary is probably an obsolete one: their presence was formerly justified on the grounds that as "words" they are far more frequent than many of the "legitimate" words, like elytron, greave, or mithridatism.

    VERBATIM: The Language Quarterly Vol XVIII No 3

  • As it is, one has to read through it to find the good stuff, which is not a thrilling prospect, notwithstanding the fact that much worthwhile material is here, though one should take it in small quantities: mithridatism The act of taking poison in increasing doses as a means of building an immunity to it, as in the case of people who start out with talk shows and gradually work their way up to situation comedies.

    VERBATIM: The Language Quarterly Vol XI No 2

Comments

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  • Thanks for the link, slumry! Nice to read a little poetry early in the morning. :-)

    July 26, 2007

  • R, you inspire me to give this link to the full poem: http://poetry.poetryx.com/poems/5194

    I often think of lines from the poem, especially
    "Ale man, ale's the stuff to drink
    For fellows whom it hurts to think."

    Victuals is a classic case of a word that a reader would be likely to mispronounce!

    July 26, 2007

  • Ha! Where I first heard the word victuals. :-)

    July 26, 2007

  • Last stanza of "Terrence, this is Stupid Stuff" by A. E. Housman

    There was a king reigned in the East:
    There, when kings will sit to feast,
    They get their fill before they think
    With poisoned meat and poisoned drink.
    He gathered all that sprang to birth
    From the many-venomed earth;
    First a little, thence to more,
    He sampled all her killing store;
    And easy, smiling, seasoned sound,
    Sate the king when healths went round.
    They put arsenic in his meat
    And stared aghast to watch him eat;
    They poured strychnine in his cup
    And shook to see him drink it up:
    They shook, they stared as white’s their shirt:
    Them it was their poison hurt.
    —I tell the tale that I heard told.
    Mithridates, he died old.

    July 26, 2007

  • building up a gradual immunity to poison by taking increasingly large doses over a long period. The approach works only for a quite restricted class of poisons, so don't try this at home.

    February 16, 2007