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In medicine before the 20th century, an anodyne was a drug that was believed to relieve or soothe pain by lessening the sensitivity of the brain or nervous system (Greek ἀνώδυνος anōdynos < ἀν- an- 'without' + ὀδύνη odynē 'pain'). It was essentially an analgesic.
Certain compound medicines were also called by this name, such as anodyne balsam, made of castile soap, camphor, saffron, and spirit of wine, and digested in a sand heat. It was recommended not only for easing extreme pain, but for assisting in discharging the peccant matter that occurred with the pain.
In literary usage, the word has escaped its strictly medical meaning to convey anything "soothing or relaxing" (so used since the 18th century) or even anything "non-contentious", "blandly agreeable", or unlikely to cause offence or debate.
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