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 Historically, we first see the word “mask” appear in the English language in 1530. Derived from the Latin word “masca” meaning ‘specter’, or ‘nightmare’, we then see the word track through both French ‘masque’ and Italian ‘maschera’ meaning “[a] covering to hide”; and “[to] guard the face”. Even before the etymology of the word “mask” was known, these accessories were fashioned from leather, or clay. For more than 9000 years, masks were worn by hunters to celebrate the spirit of animals, including bear, antelope, and birds. The Potlatch tribe wore masks during celebratory dances retelling the story of their successful hunts. It was thought that the mask wearer was mystically transformed into the creature that was depicted by the mask, embodying its nature and nobility.

Some societies used masks for entertainment value; for example, in traditional Japanese Noh theater, women did not act, their roles were played by men wearing masks. Further details of the style and type of these Japanese masks demonstrated the social caste, age and even their level of intelligence. In 1911 Gaston Leroux’s story of The Phantom of the Opera was released, showcasing a character who wore a mask to hide a physical deformity. While the Phantom is considered a villain, there is an underlying theme encouraging the audience to refrain from judging someone solely based upon their appearance.

Other than celebrations and entertainment, masks also served as a method of protection. Facial armor for knights and gladiators, and even in today’s society the use of welding masks for tradesmen, or air masks for firefighters in smokey surroundings provide valuable layers of lifesaving security.

As we approach Halloween while continuing to deal with Covid; healthcare professionals have asked the public to incorporate facial masks that cover both the mouth and nose as part of their costume. I’d like to suggest that we consider dressing up as hospital staff and ER workers, donning scrubs AND facial coverings in order to pay tribute to our essential workers and frontline heroes while being safe in our trek for a Happy Halloween!

Contributed by Gail Grogan, CMP, CMM

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