Mary Robinette Kowal

Dormouse, Dormice

Strangest factoid learned today: Elizabethans induced sleep with Dormouse fat.


By Mary Robinette Kowal

Mary Robinette Kowal is the author of SHADES OF MILK AND HONEY (Tor 2010) & won the 2008 Campbell Award for Best New Writer. She is also a professional puppeteer.

19 replies on “Dormouse, Dormice”

Well Propofol/Diprivan is used to induce sleep today and it’s a lipid (fat)/egg white (protein) emulsion… so maybe I can see that dormouse fat might work. But also I couldn’t find how they used the fat. Injected? Ingested? Rubbed it over their bodies and passed out from revulsion?

Remember what the Dormouse said, “Feed your head”
After having served as a boatswains mate in the USN, I can honestly say that I’ve developed the skill (it’s not a talent) of being able to sleep just about anywhere, and under some weird/ bad conditions for short periods of time. But most of all, I do love a good afternoon nap.

From the Oxford English Dictionary:

Origin obscure: the second element has been, at least since c 1575, treated as the word mouse, with pl. mice, though a pl. dormouses is evidenced in 16-17th c. The first element has also from 16th c. been associated with L. dormre, F. dormir to sleep, (as if dorm-mouse; cf. 16th c. Du. slaep-ratte, slaep-muys); but it is not certain that this is the original composition.
(Skeat suggests for the first element ON. dár benumbed: cf. also dial. ‘dorrer, a sleeper, a lazy person’ (Halliwell). (The F. dormeuse, fem. of dormeur sleeper, sometimes suggested as the etymon, is not known before 17th c.).
This is probably a case of the Doctrine of Signatures. If a creature sleeps a lot it will make you sleep. Walnuts are good for the brain as they look like brains. Asparagus….

Wild Lettuce is a very effective sedative, though excess causes nightmares. The salad vegetable lettuce is still a bit sedative, I find the cos varieties especially so. Though I can eat a whole cos in one sitting easily.

The propofol is an emulsion in fat in order to deliver it effectively into the body. The fat nhas nothing to do with it.

If they really did use it that way, this is a fact, not a factoid.

And while the original composition may not be 100% clear, it IS clear that dormice are nocturnal; if you find one during the day, it will probably be asleep.

According to merriam-webster, a factoid can also be ‘a briefly stated and usually trivial fact’ and doesn’t necessarily have to be an invented one.

Another dormouse fact(oid): The edible dormouse was considered a delicacy in ancient Rome, either as a savoury appetizer or as a dessert (dipped in honey and poppy seeds) (or so wikipedia says).

Factlet does not appear to be a word according to the OED and MW. I have just used it so now it is a word. Datum would be an appropriate synonym.

From 1602, Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night, or What You Will” Act 3, Scene 2:

She did show favour to the youth in your sight only
to exasperate you, to awake your dormouse valour,
to put fire in your heart and brimstone in your liver.

Yes, it is true that the ancient Romans ate dormice. They raised them so that they could eat them. Of course, the Romans also took exotic cuisine to excess by consuming things like nightingales and peacocks. However, I think the dormouse was much more common and eaten by others besides just the super rich. I’m sure this could have continued in other countries long after that time.

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