Another enjoyable specialty site courtesy of Wordorigins. Some examples:

EEL THING: Erysipelas
MORMAL: Gangrene
MORPHEW: Scurvy blisters on the body

Not to mention the mysterious DEATH FROM TEETHING.


  1. But no “marthambles.” –Still: Bronze John and grocer’s itch are both wonderful. In an abstract lexicographal kinda way, not a boy does that sound like a fun disease kinda way.

  2. Interesting. I remember I think it was Anacin still prescribed for “neuritis and neuralgia.”

  3. On mormal–gangrene just doesn’t seem to fit to me. The most familiar reference to “mormal” I know of is in Chaucer’s General Prologue, where he describes first the Cook, and then the Cook’s “mormal,” with an implication that it is an open running sore:
    379         A COOK they hadde with hem for the nones
    380         To boille the chiknes with the marybones,
    381         And poudre-marchant tart and galyngale.
    382         Wel koude he knowe a draughte of Londoun ale.
    383         He koude rooste, and sethe, and broille, and frye,
    384         Maken mortreux, and wel bake a pye.
    385         But greet harm was it, as it thoughte me,
    386         That on his shyne a mormal hadde he.
    387         For blankmanger, that made he with the beste.
    I admit to taking a particular delight in pointing out to students that there’s a direct connection between the mormal, and the appearance of blancemanger, a white gelatanous pudding .
    I note that the OED describes a mormal as a sore:
    ” 1. A sore or ulcer, usually with a dry crust or scab, found esp. on the legs. Also fig. Now hist.
    Prob. used non-specifically; the description in quot. 1543 suggests ecthyma or impetigo.”

  4. Yuk.
    But isn’t that “blancmange” (if I’m remembering my Monty Python correctly)?

  5. As terry says, interesting, but it doesn’t look very reliable. I don’t see what’s old or obsolete about many of the terms: cholera, cystitis, impetigo, meningitis, necrosis, nephritis, septicemia, thrush, tetanus, etc. And some entries, such as “peritonotis” and “diptheria”, appear to be misspellings rather than obsolete. The source material seems to come partly from non-expert sources, and partly from better-researched sites like Paul Smith’s Archaic Medical Terms, which is partly aimed at those who don’t understand even non-archaic medical terms.

  6. Yeah, it looked pretty slapdash; you notice I called it “entertaining,” not “reliable.” But I couldn’t resist “death from teething.”

  7. “Death from Teething” afflicts the parents, and sometimes, the siblings of the teething child.

  8. I called it “entertaining,” not “reliable.”
    Understood. The more I look at it, the less credible it gets. It’s pretty interesting as a meme: a Google search on some of the more picturesque terms – for instance, [“eel thing” erysipelas] – finds a couple of hundred of copies, largely going the rounds via genealogical sites. No primary source in sight, nor much input of critical comment.

  9. Oh, and further to Lisa‘s comment, neither is a morphew a “scurvy blister”. OED references show it referred to various skin blemishes and discolorations.

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