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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

"Flux of Humour" Ain't No Laughing Matter

Our little "dog hair" side trip the other day to the Ware Saw Mill in Green Bank taught us a lesson regarding the different meaning of words in different cultures and to different generations. Anyone who has done some genealogy has come across words that have confusing or puzzling. For me, this is especially true when reading some of the comments regarding sickness in old obituaries and death certificates. I've found myself scratching my head on more than one occasion and wondering, now  "What exactly is 'consumption' or 'winter fever'? 

I came across the following list of "Old Time Illnesses" which helps me understand some of the old time disease names that I run into in my genealogy travels. I have learned that I occasionally suffer from "Scrivener’s palsy" and that "flux of humour" ain't no laughing matter. You may want to keep it handy for the next time you come across a strange sounding disease while researching your family tree.

Names of Old Time Illnesses
Compiled by Daniel H. Burrows
Reprinted courtesy of Genealogy Records Service

Ablepsy - Blindness

Ague - Malarial Fever

American plague - Yellow fever

Anasarca - Generalized massive edema

Aphonia - Laryngitis

Aphtha -The infant disease "thrush"

Apoplexy - Paralysis due to stroke

Asphycsia/Asphicsia - Cyanotic and lack of oxygen

Atrophy - Wasting away or diminishing in size.

Bad Blood - Syphilis

Bilious fever - Typhoid, malaria, hepatitis or elevated   temperature and bileemesis

Biliousness - Jaundice associated with liver disease

Black plague - Bubonic plague

Black fever - Acute infection with high temperature and dark red skin lesions and high mortality rate

Black pox - Black Small pox

Black vomit - Vomiting old black blood due to ulcers or yellow fever

Blackwater fever - Dark urine associated with high temperature

Bladder in throat - Diphtheria (Seen on death certificates)

Blood poisoning - Bacterial infection; septicemia

Bloody flux - Bloody stools

Bloody sweat - Sweating sickness

Bone shave - Sciatica

Brain fever - Meningitis

Breakbone - Dengue fever

Bright’s disease - Chronic inflammatory disease of kidneys

Bronze John - Yellow fever

Bule Boil - tumor or swelling

Cachexy - Malnutrition

Cacogastric - Upset stomach

Cacospysy - Irregular pulse

Caduceus - Subject to falling sickness or epilepsy

Camp fever - Typhus; aka Camp diarrhea

Canine madness - Rabies, hydrophobia

Canker - Ulceration of mouth or lips or herpes simplex

Catalepsy - Seizures/trances

Catarrhal - Nose and throat discharge from cold or allergy

Cerebritis Inflammation of cerebrum or lead poisoning

Chilblain - Swelling of extremities caused by exposure to cold

Child bed fever - Infection following birth of a child

Chin cough - Whooping cough

Chlorosis - Iron deficiency anemia

Cholera - Acute severe contagious diarrhea with intestinal lining sloughing

Cholera morbus - Characterized by nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, elevated temperature, etc. Could be appendicitis

Cholecystitus - Inflammation of the gall bladder

Cholelithiasis - Gall stones

Chorea - Disease characterized by convulsions, contortions and dancing

Cold plague - Ague which is characterized by chills

Colic - An abdominal cramping

Congestive chills - Malaria

Congestion - Any collection of fluid in an organ, like the lungs

Congestive fever – Malaria

Consumption - Tuberculosis

Corruption - Infection

Coryza - A cold

Costiveness - Constipation

Cramp colic - Appendicitis

Crop sickness - Overextended stomach

Croup - Laryngitis, diphtheria, or strep throat

Cyanosis - Dark skin color from lack of oxygen in blood

Cynanche - Diseases of throat

Cystitis - Inflammation of the bladder

Day fever - Fever lasting one day; sweating sickness

Debility - Lack of movement or staying in bed

Decrepitude - Feebleness due to old age

Delirium tremens - Hallucination due to alcoholism

Dengue - Infectious fever endemic to East Africa

Dentition - Cutting of teeth

Deplumation - Tumor of the eyelids which causes hair loss

Diary fever - A fever that lasts one day

Diphtheria - Contagious disease of the throat

Distemper - Usually animal disease with malaise, discharge from nose and throat, anorexia

Dock fever - Yellow fever

Dropsy Edema - swelling, often caused by kidney or heart disease

Dropsy of the Brain - Encephalitis

Dry Bellyache - Lead poisoning

Dyscrasy - An abnormal body condition

Dysentery - Inflammation of colon with frequent passage of mucous and blood

Dysorexy - Reduced appetite

Dyspepsia - Indigestion and heartburn. Heart attack symptoms

Dysury - Difficulty in urination

Eclampsy - Symptoms of epilepsy or convultions during labor

Ecstasy - A form of catalepsy

Edema - Nephrosis; swelling of tissues

Edema of lungs - Congestive heart failure, a form of dropsy

Eel thing - Erysipelas

Elephantiasis - A form of leprosy

Encephalitis - Swelling of brain; aka sleeping sickness

Enteric fever - Typhoid fever

Enterocolitis - Inflammation of the intestines Enteritis Inflations of the bowels

Epitaxis - Nose bleed

Erysipelas - Contagious skin disease, due to Streptococci with vesicular bulbous lesions

Extravasted blood - Rupture of a blood vessel

Falling sickness - Epilepsy

Fatty Liver - Cirrhosis of liver

Fits - Sudden attack or seizure of muscle activity

Flux - An excessive flow or discharge of fluid like hemorrhage or diarrhea

Flux of humour - Circulation

French pox - Syphilis

Gathering - A collection of pus

Glandular fever - Mononucleosis

Great pox - Syphilis

Green fever/sickness Anemia

Grippe/grip - Influenza like symptoms

Grocer’s itch - Skin disease caused by mites in sugar or flour

Heart sickness - Condition caused by loss of salt from body

Heat stroke - Body temperature elevates because of surrounding environment temperature and body does not perspire to reduce temperature. Coma and death result if not reversed

Hectical complaint - Recurrent fever

Hematemesis - Vomiting blood

Hematuria - Bloody urine

Hemiplegy - Paralysis of one side of body

Hip gout - Osteomylitis

Horrors - Delirium tremens

Hydrocephalus - Enlarged head, water on the brain

Hydropericardium - Heart dropsy

Hydrophobia - Rabies

Hydrothroax - Dropsy in chest

Hypertrophic - Enlargement of organ, like the heart

Impetigo - Contagious skin disease charac terized by pustules    

Inanition - Physical condition resulting from lack of food

Infantile paralysis - Polio

Intestinal colic - Abdominal pain due to bad diet

Jail fever - Typhus

Jaundice - Condition caused by blockage of intestines

King’s evil - Tuberculosis of neck and lymph glands

Kruchhusten - Whooping cough

Lagrippe - Influenza

Lockjaw - Tetanus or infectious disease affecting the muscles of the neck and jaw. Untreated, it is fatal in 8 days

Long sickness - Tuberculosis

Lues disease - Syphilis

Lues venera - Venereal disease

Lumbago - Back pain

Lung fever - Pneumonia

Lung sickness - Tuberculosis

Lying in - Time of delivery of infant

Malignant sore throat - Diphtheria

Mania - Insanity

Marasmus - Progressive wasting away of body, like malnutrition

Membranous - Croup Diphtheria

Meningitis - Inflations of brain or spinal cord

Metritis - Inflammation of uterus or purulent vaginal discharge

Miasma - Poisonous vapors thought to infect the air

Milk fever - Disease from drinking contaminated milk

Milk leg - Post partum thrombophlebitis

Milk sickness - Disease from milk of cattle which had eaten poisonous weeds

Mormal - Gangrene

Morphew - Scurvy blisters on the body

Mortification - Gangrene of necrotic tissue

Myelitis - Inflammation of the spine

Myocarditis - Inflammation of heart muscles

Necrosis - Mortification of bones or tissue

Nephrosis - Kidney degeneration

Nepritis - Inflammation of kidneys

Nervous prostration - Extreme exhaustion from inability to control physical and mental activities

Neuralgia - Described as discomfort, such as "Headache" was neuralgia in head

Nostalgia - Homesickness

Palsy - Paralysis or uncontrolled movement of controlled muscles. It was listed as "Cause of death"

Paroxysm - Convulsion

Pemphigus - Skin disease of watery blisters

Pericarditis - nflammation of heart

Peripneumonia - Inflammation of lungs

Peritonotis - Inflammation of abdominal area

Petechial Fever - Fever characterized by skin spotting

Phthiriasis - Lice infestation

Phthisis - Chronic wasting away or a name for tuberculosis

Plague - An acute febrile highly infectious disease with a high fatality rate

Pleurisy - Any pain in the chest area with each breath

Podagra - Gout

PolioPotter’s asthma - Fibroid pthisis

Pott’s disease - Tuberculosis of spine

Puerperal exhaustion - Death due to child birth

Puerperal fever - Elevated temperature after giving birth to an infant

Puking fever - Milk sickness

Putrid fever - Diphtheria.

Quinsy - Tonsillitis.

Remitting fever - Malaria

Rheumatism - Any disorder associated with pain in joints

Rickets - Disease of skeletal system

Rose cold - Hay fever or nasal symptoms of an allergy

Rotanny fever – (Child’s disease)

Rubeola - German measles

Sanguineous crust - Scab

Scarlatina - Scarlet fever

Scarlet fever - A disease characterized by red rash

Scarlet rash - Roseola

Sciatica - Rheumatism in the hips

Scirrhus - Cancerous tumors

Scotomy - Dizziness, nausea and dimness of sight

Scrivener’s palsy - Writer’s cramp

Screws - Rheumatism

Scrofula - Tuberculosis of neck lymph glands. Progresses slowly with abscesses and pistulas develop. Young person’s disease

Scrumpox - Skin disease, impetigo

Scurvy - Lack of vitamin C. Symptoms of weakness, spongy gums and hemorrhages under skin

Septicemia - Blood poisoning

Shakes - Delirium tremens

Shaking - Chills, ague

Shingles - Viral disease with skin blisters

Ship fever - Typhus

Siriasis - Inflammation of the brain due to sun exposure

Sloes - Milk sickness

Small pox - Contagious disease with fever and blisters

Softening of brain - Result of stroke or hemorrhage in the brain, with an end result of the tissue softening in that area

Sore throat distemper - Diphtheria or quinsy

Spanish influenza - Epidemic influenza

Spasms - Sudden involuntary contraction of muscle or group of muscles, like a convulsion

Spina bifida - Deformity of spine

Spotted fever - Either typhus or meningitis

Sprue - Tropical disease characterized by intestinal disorders and sore throat

St. Anthony’s fire Also erysipelas, but named so because of affected skin areas are bright red in appearance

St. Vitas dance - Ceaseless occurrence of rapid complex jerking movements performed involuntary

Stomatitis - Inflammation of the mouth

Stranger’s fever - Yellow fever

Strangery - Rupture

Sudor anglicus - Sweating sickness

Summer complaint - Diarrhea, usually in infants caused by spoiled milk

Sunstroke - Uncontrolled elevation of body temperature due to environment heat. Lack of sodium in the body is a predisposing cause

Swamp sickness - Could be malaria, typhoid or encephalitis

Sweating sickness - Infectious and fatal disease common to UK in 15th century

Tetanus - Infectious fever characterized by high fever, headache and dizziness

Thrombosis - Blood clot inside blood vessel

Thrush - Childhood disease characterized by spots on mouth, lips and throat

Tick fever - Rocky mountain spotted fever

Toxemia - Eclampsia

Trench mouth - Painful ulcers found along gum line, Caused by poor nutrition and poor hygiene

Tussis convulsiva - Whooping cough

Typhus - Infectious fever characterized high fever, headache, and dizziness

Variola - Smallpox

Venesection - Bleeding

Viper’s dance - St. Vitus Dance

Water on brain - Enlarged head

White swelling - Tuberculosis of the bone

Winter fever - Pneumonia

Womb fever - Infection of the uterus.

Worm fit - Convulsions associated with teething, worms, elevated temperature or diarrhea

Yellowjacket - Yellow fever.

Also, related to old time diseases are the old medicine ads that were published in old almanacs and various cataloges.

Here are two that got a chuckle from me  .    .    .

Just the ticket! A cigarette to cure asthma as well as a wide variety of other mouth and respitory ailments. Notice the safety warning at the bottom. You should be reassured that your 7 year old is safe using this product. I'm sure that's not from the Surgeon General.

The only thing I can think to say about this one is "Ouch!" The next time you hear someone whinning about wanting to return to the "Good Old Days", show them this ad.

Keep healthy, all.

Pete S


  1. Thanks for the lists,they will come in very handy!The 'Life Renewer' Ad, reading it is enough to bring tears to your eyes, never mind wearing it!
    Warm regards,

  2. Good nice post keep posting and updating the blog on regular basis....

    Smith Alan

  3. cannabis is a bronchial dilator, been used forever to help with asthma, obviously a vape is easier on the lungs, if you are having an asthma attack the quickest way to mitigate it is to smoke a doobie you don't want to have to fill up a bong or eat the stuff cause it takes to long

  4. sorry and for 100 years up until it was banned, everyone, including children had been eating cannabis resin to help with their many illnesses