Author Topic: The Meanings Behind 9 Common (and Thankfully Not-So-Common) Disease Names  (Read 418 times)

SHANDAL

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Disease names can reveal a lot about the history of medicine. The roots of the terms we know today often relate to older ideas about the cause of disease—from the position of the stars to "bad air"—or to ideas about how disease symptoms manifested. Below are the meanings behind 9 common (and thankfully not-so-common) diseases:

SHANDAL

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4. SYPHILIS
© Hieronymus Fracastorius (Girolamo Fracastoro) shows the shepherd Syphilus and the hunter Ilceus bein... 
Syphilis was named from a poem, “Syphilis sive morbus Gallicus” (“Syphilis or the French Disease”),
by Italian Dr. Girolamo Fracastoro in 1530, in which a shepherd called Syphilus catches the disease. Due to the virulence and prevalence of the disease in the 17th and 18th centuries it was colloquially named after enemies—thus in England it was known as the French disease, the French called it the Neapolitan disease or the disease of Naples, the Russians called it the Polish disease, the Poles called it the Turkish disease, etc.

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6. CANCER
Hieronymus Fracastorius (Girolamo Fracastoro) shows the shepherd Syphilus and the hunter Ilceus bein..

Cancer as a group of diseases has existed side by side with humans since the beginning of recorded history. The first known written description (although at the time they did not call it cancer) is from an ancient Egyptian papyrus from 3000 BCE, which describes treating breast cancer. Hippocrates, the Greek father of medicine, was the first to coin the name cancer, after the Greek word karkinos for crabs. No one is quite sure of his reasoning, but one of the suggestions is because of the way the tumors spread and surround healthy tissue in a crab-like fashion.

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7. THE FLU
© Hieronymus Fracastorius (Girolamo Fracastoro) shows the shepherd Syphilus and the hunter Ilceus bein...
 
The origin of the name influenza reveals old ideas about how and why illnesses were caught and spread. The term derives from the Italian word for influence, reflecting the belief that catching the disease was caused (or influenced) by the positions of the planets in astrology. Initially, "influence" related purely to astrology, meaning an ethereal liquid that supposedly flowed down from the stars, affecting the health of humans when they were in certain "bad" positions. In Italian, "influenza" came to mean the outbreak of a disease due to the positions of the stars. It was this aspect of the meaning that was adopted to represent the illness we now understand as influenza, which we shortened in the English language to flu.

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9. RABIES
© Hieronymus Fracastorius (Girolamo Fracastoro) shows the shepherd Syphilus and the hunter Ilceus bein...
 
Rabies is an extremely serious illness which is almost always fatal once symptoms of the disease manifest. It is spread by the bite from an infected animal, most commonly dogs, but fortunately these days it can be prevented by administering a vaccination immediately after being bitten. Because of the way the disease causes hyperactivity, hydrophobia, and frothing of the mouth, it was named after the Latin term rabere, which means "to rave."

 

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