Archaic Terminology Defined

Not going to go deep into the history of the terms today, but here are a few more random terms you’ll probably encounter when studying medicine in history, and the correlated current terminology!

Ague - Recurring fever, usually with chills. Often used to describe malaria, but other diseases with cyclical fevers were also considered “ague”.

Bilious - Pertaining to a liver disorder or bile. Jaundice and nausea/vomiting often were described as “bilious”, but it should be noted that many supposed liver disorders in pre-modern medicine were not actually caused by liver problems.

Brain Fever - Meningitis or encephalitis, generally secondary characteristics of a disease.

Coup de soleil - Sunstroke.

Dropsy - Edema [swelling], generally of the lower limbs, but can be a swelling anywhere in the body. Often caused by heart or kidney disease. A very common term in pre-modern medicine. 

Dyspepsia - Indigestion. Acidic stomach. Heartburn.

Eructation - Belching. Gas coming up from the stomach. (Still a common term in veterinary science, especially with ruminants)

Hydrophobia - Rabies. Hydrophobia is the primary symptom of rabies.

Lumbago - Back pain.

Mania - Insanity. Generally not delirium or dementia, but the more violent forms of insanity.

Mortify - Gangrene or infection, death of tissue, generally from an initial trauma or wound. (Currently, the common vernacular definition is humiliation or to wound one’s pride)

Puerperal - Pertaining to childbirth. A variety of diseases and causes of death surrounded both pregnancy and childbirth until fairly recently.

Pyrexia - Fever.

Quinsy - Peritonsillar abscess, a collection of pus beside the tonsils that often occurs with tonsillitis.

Scrofula - (Also known as “King’s Evil) Primary TB of the lymph glands in the neck


Many of these terms defined at Antiquus Morbus, a great site for finding obscure and antiquated medical terms!

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