How did I never realize this before? The word “Thermometer” has “mom” smack in the middle of it.

My entire life I’ve been so impressed by the superpower that is a mom determining a kid’s temperature using the back of their hands. I remember my mom doing it, and without fail she’d know when to give me the thermometer to confirm her suspicions. After her hand suggested I merited getting the thermometer out of the hall closet, I’d walk around our house feeling dangerous having a piece of poison-filled glass in my mouth like a mafioso with a cigarette. After whatever interminable period of time those old school thermometers took to measure temperature, it would always confirm my mom’s measurement. She had the magic touch.

I watched my sisters have babies and mysteriously they acquired this same skill. Throughout my 20s I’d wake up with a hangover and think, “The plague!,” then place my hand on my forehead as if I’d be able to tell my temperature. I’d wake up my husband, insisting, “I feel hot. Feel my forehead. I have a fever, right?” We’d both sort of look at each other, having no idea what the precise temperature a head should feel to the back of your hand.

Then I had a baby.

(What, I buried the lede? This blog now has even less of a coherent theme, it shall forevermore be random musings about food, recipes, the world, and their sometimes magical, sometimes complicated intersections with children and motherhood).

And now that baby has had a handful of colds, and all of a sudden, the back of my hand has become a rather effective temperature-taking device. Certainly more accurate than the three cheapo thermometers I’ve purchased thus far, because an under-the-arm measurement sounded reasonable when I was pregnant and had never had to torture a child by keeping their arm tight against their body to take their temperature. Just like, when I purchased my first digital one, ten seconds didn’t sound long until I had a tube shoved in a squirming child’s ear. Which is when I fell for the “even faster!” device that gives you a reading in three seconds.

Sure, “thermo” means “of heat” and metrum means “measure.” I understand the French “thermometre” doesn’t include “maman,” but I shall ignore the charming word origin story described here and instead believe my version, which is that the word was built around the original temperature measuring device, a mom.


Alicia Amling View All →

Recovering journalist who discovered a life outside of news leaves you time for things like getting angry, cooking and traveling. Plus, hopefully, writing. I’m a wife, dog mom and Washingtonian.

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