Word Smith: Tonic

We hear lots about lotions and potions these days. There are brewed beverages and hemp infused drinks. There are sports drinks and protein drinks and diet drinks and upset stomach drinks. But let’s not forget the tried and true tonic water. It was first invented to help patients digest dissolved quinine for malaria and other ailments. It still has a bitter flavor, which seems to make it ideal for use in mixed drinks. Gin and Tonic anyone?

The word TONIC, however has lots of other meanings to consider. Two references to Tonic that occur in our culture are musical scales and seizures, where the word is also used. Although these seem disparate meanings, there is a connection among all of these uses of the word. Think of taughtness of a muscle or piano string.

Tonic Scale

In music, the tonic scale is the first scale degree in the diatonic scale (first note in the scale) and the tonal center or final resolution tone that is commonly used in the final cadence of the chord. We commonly hear tonic chords in classical music, popular music and traditional music. The triad formed on the tonic note is the most significant chord in all three of these genres of music. Scales are named after their tonics, so the tonic of the scale of C is the note C.

The tonic is sometimes confused with the root, which is the reference note of a chord, rather than that of the scale. Most chords (e.g., ii, IV, V) are not tonic chords.[1]

Tonic-Clonic Seizure

During a generalized tonic-clonic seizure (formerly called a grand mal seizure), electric discharges instantaneously involve the entire brain. The person loses consciousness right from the beginning of the seizure.

A tonic-clonic seizure usually lasts one to three minutes, but can last up to five minutes or longer. If seizures last more than five minutes, or occur one after another without recovery between seizures, the individual may be experiencing a life-threatening medical emergency and requires immediate medical help.

The person will usually emit a short, loud cry as the muscles in the chest contract and the air rushes between the vocal cods, making a sound. This cry does not indicate pain. The muscles will stiffen (tonic phase), causing him/her to fall to the floor. Increased pressure on the bladder and bowel may cause wetting (urinary incontinence) or soiling (fecal incontinence). The child may bite the tongue, which may cause bleeding.

The extremities will then jerk and twitch rhythmically (clonic phase). Saliva that has not been swallowed during the seizure may froth at the mouth. Breathing may be irregular as the respiratory muscles may be affected. The person will regain consciousness slowly.

The period after the seizure is referred to as the post-ictal state. During this time, the person will need to rest. It may be difficult to wake him/her or get any response from him/her during this time. After a seizure, the person may feel fatigue, confusion and disorientation, which may last from five minutes to several hours or even days. Rarely, this disorientation may last up to two weeks.

The person may fall asleep, or gradually become less confused until full consciousness is regained. S/he may have a headache once s/he regains consciousness. There is no evidence that tonic-clonic seizures cause brain damage.[2]


[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tonic_(music)

[2] http://epilepsyontario.org/about-epilepsy/types-of-seizures/tonic-clonic-seizures/