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#134938 - 11/06/04 09:07 AM syphilis sive morbus gallicus
Most people know that the STD syphilis is named after the shepherd Syphilis who is the hero of a poem, Syphilis, sive morbus Gallicus (Syphilis, or the French disease) written by the Reneaissance physician Girolamo Fracastoro [1478–1553] and published in 1530. Least any of our francophone friends be upset with the term French disease, it should be remembered that syphilis was also called the Spanish disease (because Columbus' sailors supposedly brought it back from the New World), the German disease, and the Neapolitan (sometimes Italian) disease. (The English disease being saved for another thing entirely.)
I've never seen an etymology of syphilis offered, other than the eponymous shepherd hero. It occurs to me that it could possibly have been derived from suphe(i)os 'hog-sty' by Fracastoro (connected with Latin sus 'hog' and English swine, and which reminds me of Elizabethan and Jacobean stews 'a brothel'), though this latter is not related to sty, but rather Greek tuphus 'fever' whence our disease typhus. A sty is an enclosure for swine, but also an inflammation of a sebaceous gland in the eye.
Another term for syphilis is lues 'plague, pestilence'; Tacitus describes in his History a invading German army as immensa belli lues 'a huge plague of war' (iii.15).
It also just dawned on me that I've never heard any of the folks upset with inflammable meaning combustible, ranting about inflammation. Hmm.
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