Dis-easy for you to say

I’m very excited to have purchased a couple of days ago a ticket to Ethiopia, leaving two months from today. I’ll be traveling with my sister and visiting my nephew and his family, who live in Addis Ababa. Naturally, I’ve already been to the bookstore to buy a basic Ethiopian Amharic grammar and phrasebook. I’ll be posting about my halting efforts with that language in future posts, no doubt.

Another stop in trip planning was the CDC travel information site, which lists what vaccinations are recommended for visitors to a given area. Fortunately, my doctor is pretty good at keeping me up to date on routine vaccines by checking her files at my annual exam to see what’s needed, so I won’t have to get shots for everything on this list. One of the entries, influenza (or flu), I have discussed in a recent post, so I’ve omitted it here. I thought it would be interesting to find out the etymologies of these other disease words that we are all familiar with, and with which I’ll soon be inoculated. This is what I found.

Early 14th century. Middle English masel, probably from Dutch masel “blemish.” Probably influenced by Old French mesel “leprous,” from Latin misellus “wretched, unfortunate,” diminutive form of miser “wretched.”
Related English words: misery, miserable

Its name is probably an allusion to swelling of face during the disease and/or to painful difficulty swallowing. Early 17th century, plural of mump “a grimace” (1590s), originally a verb, “to whine like a beggar” (1580s), from Dutch mompen “to cheat, mumble, whine.”
Related: mumpish (sullen, sulky)

1883. Modern Latin, literally “rash,” from Latin, rubellus “reddish,” dim. of ruber “red”
Related: ruby, rubescent, rubicund, rubidium (an element so named because its spectral lines are red)

This shortened form of poliomyelitis first observed in 1931. Previously known as infantile paralysis, the name poliomyelitis was created in 1878. Comes from Greek polios “grey” + myelos “marrow” + -itis “inflammation.” Paralysis is caused by inflammation of the gray matter in the spinal cord.
Related: medical words like myelin, myeloma, myelopathy

Chicken pox
1730. So called because of its mildness in relation to smallpox. Pox comes from a word meaning “pustule.” After about 1500, it was especially used to refer to syphilis.
The medical term for chicken pox is varicella. It is a diminutive form of variola, a medical Latin word meaning smallpox. Variola is itself a diminutive of varius, meaning changing or various (in the sense of speckled).
Related: vary, various

Adopted from the French word diphthérie, coined in 1857 from Greek diphthera “prepared hide, leather,” of unknown origin; the disease name refers to the tough membrane that forms in the throat.

This word for whooping cough is documented from 1799. Modern Latin per– “thoroughly” + tussis “cough.”
Related: tussive, medical term for “relating to cough.” Spanish word for cough is la tos (noun) or toser (verb).

Late 14th century, Latin tetanus, from Greek tetanos “muscular spasm,” literally “a stretching, tension,” from teinein “to stretch.” The disease takes its name from the characteristic muscle spasms and stiffness it causes.
Related: tension, tenet, tendon

Coined 1727. Taken from Greek hepatos, from hepar “liver,” + -itis “inflammation.”
Related: various other medical words related to the liver begin hepat-, e.g. hepatotoxic, hepatoma

1800. Short form of typhoid fever, so named because it resembled typhus, a different disease. Typhus is an acute infectious fever that was named in 1785, from Modern Latin, from Greek typhos “stupor caused by fever,” literally. “smoke,” from typhein “to smoke,” related to typhos “blind,” typhon “whirlwind.”
Related: Other medical words that have something to do with typhoid or typhus.

Yellow Fever
Named around 1730-40. It causes liver damage, a a yellowing of the skin and fever—name taken from symptoms.
Related: yellow submarine, boogie fever

Meningococcal meningitis
Late 19th century. Meninges is Greek plural of meninx, membrane. Coccus is a spherial bacterium, from Greek grain, seed, berry.
Related: A long list of medical words that pertain to membranes or the meninges—such as meningioma—or similar bacteria, such as staphylococcal.

Malaria (not present in Addis Ababa so no prophylactic treatment needed, but an interesting etymology)
1730s. Literally, Italian for “bad air.” The disease was thought to be borne by foul air blowing in from marshlands. It was the mosquito flying on the air, not the air itself, but they had the right idea.
Sources consulted: Online Etymology Dictionary; Dictionary.com Unabridged; Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology

About Verla

Wordfreak. Retired private investigator and Spanish court interpreter. Erstwhile librarian. Texan by birth, cheesehead by upbringing, latina by soul, in New Mexico by choice. Lover of things purple. Passionate participant in the Librivox audiobook recording project. We record books that are in the public domain in the U.S. The recordings are then placed in the public domain themselves.
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