Medical Terms and Family History


When researching your family history you may come along death certificates with the cause of death listed as something you have never heard of. Back in the day there were a lot of medical terms for diseases and illnesses that don’t pertain to today and are no longer used.

This article is a short story about a young woman visiting with her family using those old time medical terms to describe their ailments. After reading the story you will find a list of those terms with their meanings.

May 15, 1920. Today I went out for a walk to visit some kinfolk. First I stopped at Grandmas house. She is anile and her bone shave has been bothering her, so I wanted to check on her. She was doing well today. Grandma is a good cook and she fixed me eggs and sausage with biscuits and gravy for breakfast. Sometimes, though, I get Grocers Itch after eating there. Don’t know why.

Her chickens lay the biggest and best eggs you’ve ever tasted. Her sausage came from her old sow Elly, who was slaughtered last week. Grandpa, who is a little decrepitude, did the slaughter with the help of Uncle George and Uncle Billy. They do most of the butchering for the folks down in the holler.

Grandpa has been down in the bed with Hectical Complaint and Blackwater Fever. He is starting to mend but doesn’t have all his strength back yet. Grandma was afraid he had come down with Putrid Fever, but that didn’t prove so. I was satisfied that both are getting along ok.

Uncle George, who lives with Grandma and Grandpa, was out milking their only cow, Bessie. Uncle George is the wild one of the family. He is a ladies man and goes out drinking most nights. I thought he would quit that drinking after having the Horrors and Barrel Fever for a spell. I heard gossip through the grapevine that some of his lady friends are mad at him. They say he has the French Pox and gave it to some of them. One of the ladies even gave the Bad Blood to her husband. I heard too, that her husband is going to use his shotgun on the ‘man’ that gave it to her when he finds him. Oh my.

I went on down the road to see my Aunt Mary and Uncle Billy who had just birthed a baby girl a few months back. Their whole family has had some kind of sickness lately. Aunt Mary came down with Milk Leg after giving birth and can hardly walk. Uncle Billy has Corruption to both hands from the Ambustio he got from boiling water they use during slaughtering. The poor baby had Diary Fever and a Worm Fit from cutting teeth.

I returned home hoping and praying that all is going to be well.

Medical Terms and Meanings:

– Anile = “A weak old woman.” Also applied to senility from old age.

– Bone Shave = Sciatica.

– Grocers Itch = Skin disease caused by mites in sugar or flour.

– Decrepitude = Feebleness due to old age.

– Hectical Complaint = Recurrent Fever.

– Blackwater Fever = Dark urine associated with high temperature.

– Putrid Fever = Diphtheria.

– Horrors = Delirium Tremens

– Barrel Fever = Sickness from immoderate drinking.

– French Pox = Syphilis

– Bad Blood = Another name for Syphilis.

– Milk Leg = Postpartum thrombophlebitis.

– Corruption = Infection.

– Ambustio = A burn or scald.

– Diary Fever = A fever that lasts one day.

– Worm Fit = Convulsions associated with teething, worms, elevated temperature, or diarrhea.


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