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Origin of the Word “Paraphernalia”

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Rachel from Ashland, Virginia, wonders about the origin of paraphernalia, or “items belonging to a particular person or used for a particular activity.” In ancient Greece, the pherna was a bride’s dowry, and the parapherna was her additional personal property. The Greek root para- means “beside,” as in paramilitary, “a group existing beside the military,” and parasite, something that “eats food beside you.” Romans adopted the word as paraphernalia, which eventually found its way into English and Scottish Common law as a term for “the personal belongings of a wife,” such as clothing, jewelry. Over time, paraphernalia came to denote “any personal belongings” or “items used for a particular activity,” such as drug paraphernalia. This is part of a complete episode.

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