A Funeral for a Placebo

by M-Gillies
Bible page with red placebos

The color of a placebo pill has a discernable effect: green and blue pills act as depressants; red pills act as stimulants… except in Italian men, for whom blue pills act as stimulants.

Maybe you’ve heard the story, the one about the New Zealand man nicknamed the Grim Eater. He was recently banned from local funeral homes when his frequent attendances to services showed that he wasn’t arriving to show his condolences for the family, not even to pay his respect for the dead, but rather to partake in the free food.

It isn’t very common that you hear stories of this sort of thing happening. In fact, while this recent bout of funeral tourism may have been an isolated incident, there was a time when this sort of attendance for free food was more frequent. So much so that it garnered the term placebo singers.

It was during the eighth century that the Psalm placebo Domino in regione vivorum (I shall please the Lord in the land of the living) was used as a lament prayer during death masses. However, the term soon began taking a different connotation during the Medieval period. In France, particularly, the term placebo singers or singers of placebo came to denote people who participated at funerals in the hope of attaining free food and drink, despite not having a link to the deceased.

With this form of deception, the word placebo linguistically evolved from I shall please to I shall deceive to please to simply, I shall deceive.

With the medical community of the eighteenth century having a fondness for Latin, the term was wholeheartedly adapted to describe pills used to please rather than to benefit the patient.

To date, the text for the Psalm has been revised as ambulabo coram Domino in regione vivorum, translating to I will walk before Your face in the land of the living.

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