General Glossary

According to Percival Pott in his Chirurgical Works, (1765): “Clear and precise definitions of diseases, and the application of such names to them as are expressive of their true and real nature, are of more consequence than they are generally imagined to be: Untrue or imperfect ones occasion false ideas; and false ideas are generally followed by erroneous practice.”

Abracadabrasearch for term

This word was believed to have magic healing powers when inscribed on an amulet. Its origin is from the Aramaic language: abra meaning "to create" and cadabra meaning "as I say." It was first mentioned in the second century book Liber Medicinalis, or De Medicina Praecepta Saluberrima by Quintus Serenus Sammonicus, physician to the Roman emperor Caracalla, who prescribed that malaria sufferers wear an amulet containing abracadabra written in the form of a triangle.

Achilles' Heelsearch for term

Achilles, son of the king Peleus and sea-goddess Thetis, was a fearless warrior in Homer's Iliad. As an infant his mother had dipped him in the river Styx in order to make him safe in battle, holding him by his heel which did not get wet. Apollo informed Paris of that vulnerability who then caused Achilles' death by aiming an arrow at his unprotected heel.

Adam's Applesearch for term

The larynx and its protective cartilage most prominent in males. The myth is that when Eve gave Adam the forbidden fruit to eat some of the apple got caught in his throat and made a lump. Another possibility is that the term comes from a mistranslation I that the old Hebrew word for bump is similar to the word for apple.

Aguesearch for term

Intermittent chills and fever (as in malaria).

Amuletsearch for term

An object worn on a part of the body to protect against illness or accidents (from Arabic hamalet meaning a pendant).

Apoplexysearch for term

Sudden paralysis, perhaps by stroke, or bleed into the brain or other organ.

Apple of Your Eyesearch for term

Since ancient times sight has been regarded as something special. The pupil is round and has the appearance of an apple so the phrase has been applied to anyone who is especially precious.

Basket Casesearch for term

Referring to an individual totally unable to manage the easiest tasks. The term came from the US military following WWI and referred to soldiers who had lost all of their limbs and had to be transported by way of a basket.

Bezoarsearch for term

From the earliest of times mineral concretions from the internal organs of animals were felt to contain magical properties, especially as antidotes to poisonous substances. The first ones were transported to Europe from Western Persian goats.

Bistourysearch for term

A long, narrow knife with a straight or curved blade for opening cavities. (F. bistouri, dagger) A bistoury cache is a spring loaded, double bladed instrument used in Urology.

Bite the Bulletsearch for term

This term applies to the ability to undergo an unpleasant experience with grace and calm. There is a debate regarding whether or not "bullets" were given to soldiers to bite on during major surgical procedures such as amputations in the 19th century when anesthetics were not always available. Lead shot has been found near hospitals with what appear to be teeth marks, though may be animal in nature. The term first appeared in a definition of nightingale in Francis Grose's "A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue" in 1796: "Nightingale -- A soldier who, as the term is, sings out at the halberts. It is a point of honour in some regiments, among the grenadiers, never to cry out, or become nightingales, whilst under the discipline of the cat of nine tail; to avoid which, they chew a bullet." Later in 1891 the term again appeared in print in "The Light That Failed" by Rudyard Kipling: "Bite on the bullet, old man, and don't let them think you're afraid." But no medical application has been documented in print so "biting the bullet" during surgery remains a controversial subject.

Black Deathsearch for term

Bubonic plague.

Blowing Smoke up Your Rear Endsearch for term

Meaning that you are being inflated by insincere flattery; in 18th century England drowning victims were resuscitated by getting tobacco smoke bellow enemas which included the stimulant nicotine.

Blue Bloodssearch for term

From the Spanish "sangre azul" and attributed the aristocracy of Castile some of whom claimed never to have intermarried with others of darker races. Their resultant light skin showed up the blue color of their veins.

Bougiesearch for term

A cylindrical instrument used for dilating tubular organs, such as the urethra or esophagus. (F. Bougie, an Algerian seaport from which candles were imported).

Break a Legsearch for term

There is great superstition in the theatre so the best thing one can do is to wish a performer bad luck so hopefully he or she will have good luck. This practice is documented to have been practiced from the early part of the 20th century.

Bright's Diseasesearch for term

Kidney disease which is accompanied by fluid retention and often kidney failure (described by Dr. Richard Bright).

Calenturesearch for term

A mild fever of tropical climates (from Latin calere to be warm).

Cataclysmsearch for term

Female orgasm in a doctor's office.

Catamaniasearch for term


Cataplexysearch for term

"Shock" by fright.

Catarrhsearch for term

Upper respiratory tract infection, mucous.

Catlinsearch for term

A long, double-edged knife, often used in amputations.

Cephalotribesearch for term

Forcepslike instrument with a screw handle, used to crush the head in fetal abortion. (G. kephale, the head + G. tribo, to bruise).

Charlatansearch for term

A quack physician (from ciarlare meaning “to chatter” in Italian).

Chilblainsearch for term

The painful itching or swelling of an extremity caused by poor circulation when exposed to cold.

Chlorosissearch for term

A disease primarily of adolescent females characterized by delayed menarche, weakness, anorexia, moodiness, poor skin color: iron deficiency anemia or "green sickness."

Cholerasearch for term

Any infectious disease that is epidemic.

Clapsearch for term


Clyster (clysis)search for term

An enema used for rectal administration of medications. (G. klyster, to wash out).

Consumptionsearch for term


Cool as a Cucumbersearch for term

In early days physicians believed that an overabundance of blood caused fever so patients were commonly phlebotomized and given cucumber seeds to lower their temperature; thus the expression "cool as a cucumber."

Counterirritantsearch for term

A substance or device that irritates one area of the body presumably to relieve pain in another part.

Cranioclastsearch for term

A strong forceps used for crushing and extracting the fetal head after perforation. (G. kranion, skull + G. klao, to break in pieces).

Crochetsearch for term

A hooked instrument used for removing an aborted fetus. (F. croche, hook).

Cupping (wet and dry)search for term

The act of applying a heated cup to bring blood to the skin to act as a counterirritant (dry), or to bleed (wet).

Decoctionsearch for term

The substances left after the heating or boiling of herbs which were often used as medications, coffees, teas, or tinctures. (from Latin de coquere, to cook).

Dental Keysearch for term

A key shaped instrument used to remove teeth.

Diathermysearch for term

Local elevation of temperature of tissues by high frequency current, ultrasonic waves, or microwave radiation for therapy. (G. dia, through, + therme, heat).

Dripsearch for term


Dropsysearch for term

Fluid retention (from heart, liver, or kidney disease).

Dystociasearch for term

A difficult delivery.

Ecraseursearch for term

Instrument used to crush tissue. (F. ecraser, to crush).

Electrostatic Generatorsearch for term

A therapeutic device that creates static electricity.

Elevator (dental or neurosurgical)search for term

An instrument used to lift a tooth or piece of bone (L. e-levo, to lift up).

Embrocationsearch for term

Liniment (Greek embroche lotion, from en + brechein to wet).

Errhinesearch for term

Medications used to promote sneezing or a nasal discharge (from Greek en + rhin, in nose).

Etuisearch for term

A small pocket case for instruments. (F. estuier, to preserve).

Falling Sicknessearch for term


Fleamsearch for term

A sharp lancet for bloodletting (G. phleb, vein + tomon, to cut).

Forceps (bullet, dental, lithotomy, obstetric)search for term

An instrument to grasp a structure, for compression or traction (L. formus, hot + ceps, to take).

Frog in Your Throatsearch for term

Secretions of frogs were used to treat sore throats and a times it was felt that by placing a live frog in the sufferer's mouth the frog would inhale the disease.

Give your Eyetoothsearch for term

In early days the canine or eyetooth was removed as a punishment so those who considered breaking the law were forced to weigh whether or not they would give their eyetooth for the object of their desire. Extraction of this particular tooth carried increased risk since a resultant cavernous sinus infection could extend directly into the orbit.

God Bless Yousearch for term

The plague comes in two forms, bubonic and pneumonic. The most common was the first (spread by rat fleas) but the most deadly was the latter (by droplet spread). Pneumonic plague had a 100% mortality and the first sign was to sneeze. During a sixth century outbreak Pope Gregory the Great began the custom of saying "God Bless You" to those who sneezed so that they might ultimately go to heaven.

Gorgetsearch for term

A director or guide with a wide groove used in lithotomy (ME. gorge, throat).

Graveyard Shiftsearch for term

In old England one out of twenty five coffins had scratch marks on the inside making it clear that people had been buried alive. As a precaution family members would tie a string to the wrist of the departed and attach it to a bell above ground. Someone would have to sit out in the graveyard all night (the graveyard shift) to listen for the bell; thus, someone could be “saved by the bell."

Green Sicknesssearch for term

(see chlorosis)

Hair of the Dogsearch for term

This is part of a longer expression "the hair of the dog that bit you." The ancient belief was that treatment with the hair of a dog that bites someone could be used a curative for the toxins of the bite. By extension an antidote against the hangover that follows excess alcohol intake should be another drink or two.

Hey’s Sawsearch for term

Neurosurgical instrument for removal of a section of the skull (by Dr. William Hey).

Holding a Wakesearch for term

The custom of drinking ale or whiskey in lead cups would sometimes knock out drinkers for several days. They would be laid out on the kitchen table in preparation for burial while the family would gather around eating and drinking to see if individuals would wake up -- and so the custom of "holding a wake."

Hysteric Paroxysmsearch for term

Orgasm (hysterikos, suffering in the womb).

Impostumesearch for term

An abscess (from the Greek apostema separation of pus into an abscess).

In the Pinksearch for term

Meaning healthy. Early English fox hunters wore scarlet colored jackets called pinks. If you are wearing your pink, you were ready to go hunting.

Ivorinesearch for term

A trademark substance resembling ivory.

June Weddingssearch for term

In medieval times most marriages took place in June because most took their yearly baths in May. Since brides were starting to smell by June they carried a bouquet of flowers to hide the body odor, a custom we continue today.

Lancet (gum, spring, thumb)search for term

A surgical knife with a short, wide, two-edged blade (F. lancette).

Laudanumsearch for term

Tincture of opium.

Lenticularsearch for term

Neurosurgical instrument used to elevate fragments of skull (L. lenticula, a lentil).

Lily Liveredsearch for term

In ancient Greece the red liver of a sacrificed animal before a battle was regarded as a good omen. On the other hand if the liver was pale then the outlook for the battle was grim. In that light the liver of a coward was thought to be pale or "lily livered."

Lithoclast (lithotrite)search for term

An instrument used to crush a urinary stone. (G. lithos, stone + G. klastos, broken or L. Tritus, to rub).

Long in the Toothsearch for term

Meaning getting older and referring to judging the age of horses whose gums recede with time. Additionally a groove in the upper incisor also elongates as the horse gets older.

Loosing or Saving Facesearch for term

18th century nobles rarely bathed and wore a great deal of makeup. Perfume was used profusely while layers of makeup built up. Sitting too close to the heat of the fireplace would cause the makeup to melt so that a servant would move the screen in front of the fireplace to block the heat and prevent their masters from "losing face."

Mad as a Hattersearch for term

In the past many hats were made using mercurous nitrate, a substance toxic to the central nervous system. The symptoms exhibited by hat makers included a tremor along with altered behavior, leading many to conclude that these individuals were "mad." This disease was famously suffered by The Mad Hatter in Lewis Caroll's "Alice in Wonderland."

Make No Bones About Itsearch for term

This is a reference to the unwelcome discovery of bones in soup in 15th century England. There would be no objection if you found no bones in your meal; for anything you were able to allow without any difficulty or objection you made no bones about.

Melancholysearch for term

An excess of black bile characterized by irascibility or depression (Greek from melan + chole bile).

Miasmasearch for term

The belief that diseases were generated by “bad air” formed from rotting food, waste, and feces found in overcrowded inner city environments.

Mountebanksearch for term

A quack physician meaning "one who stood on a bench."

Not a Pot To Piss Insearch for term

In the 16th century families urinated in a pot and sold skins placed there to a tannery - you were really poor if you couldn't afford to buy the pot.

Ophthalmoscopesearch for term

A device for studying the interior of the eye through the pupil (G. ophthalmos relationship to the eye + G. skopeo, to examine).

Otoscopesearch for term

An instrument for examining the eardrum (G. ous, ear + G. skopea, to view).

Ozone Generatorsearch for term

A form of oxygen (O3) that is produced by a static charge and was thought to have health benefits (G. ozein, to smell).

Papboatsearch for term

A boat-shaped dish used to hold pap (a soft food for infants) (L. pappa, food).

Paroxysmsearch for term

(see hysteric paroxysm)

Percussorsearch for term

A small hammer used to tap part of the body in order to determine density (L. percussio, to beat).

Perforatorsearch for term

An obstetric instrument for making a bony opening through the cranium in abortion (L. perforare, to bore through).

Pessarysearch for term

An appliance introduced into the vagina to support the uterus (L. pessarium, from G. pessos, an oval stone used in certain games).

Phrenologysearch for term

The appearance of the skull reflects enlargements of parts of the brain, and thus character – according to FJ Gall (L. phren, mind).

Physiognomysearch for term

The study of personality by appearance (G. physi, nature + gnomon, interpreter).

Piss Poorsearch for term

Urine used to be employed in tanning animal skins. Families all urinated in a pot and then sold the skins placed there to a tannery; you were "piss poor" if you had to do this to survive.

Pleximetersearch for term

An oblong plate placed on the body and struck with a percussor (G. plesso, to strike, + metron, measure).

Poulticesearch for term

A moist, warm soft medication or herb made into a paste that is spread under a cloth that is placed over the skin of an infected or painful part of the body to draw out the disease (from Latin pultes porridge).

Probangsearch for term

A flexible rod with a soft tip to advance or retrieve an esophageal foreign body (from provang, by inventor Walter Rumsey).

Radionicssearch for term

Alternative medicine dedicated to treating diseases by using radio waves to neutralize the different sine waves produced by each disease.

Red Herring (in a diagnosis)search for term

Smoked (or red) herrings in 19th century England had a very strong scent, strong enough to mask other smells. A red herring pulled across the trail could divert hounds pursuing a fox so the phrase came to mean any false trail.

Restorativessearch for term

Medications such as Solomon’s Balm of Gilead and Brodum’s Cordial which were purported to return to the recipient all those powers lost by masturbation.

Revulsionsearch for term

The drawing of disease or congestion from one part of the body to another by counterirritation.

Rocks in Your Headsearch for term

An early practice by quack doctors was to go from town to town curing the insane by palming a rock and pretending to remove "the rock of insanity" from those afflicted. Before it was realized that there was no improvement, the doctor was on to the next town. That's why we claim that an individual exhibiting bizarre behavior has rocks in his head.

Saved by the Bellsearch for term

(see graveyard shift)

Scalpelsearch for term

A knife used in surgical dissection (L. scalprum, a knife).

Scarificatorsearch for term

An instrument for making multiple superficial incisions in the skin for wet cupping (L. scarifico, to sctatch).

Shagreensearch for term

A dyed, untanned leather or sharkskin used for etuis or lancet cases.

Simplessearch for term

Medications made from a single herb.

Soundsearch for term

An elongated, cylindrical instrument, used for exploring, dilating, or detecting a foreign body in a cavity or canal (usually urethra, or esophagus).

Speculumsearch for term

An instrument for opening a canal or cavity for inspection (L. a mirror, from specio, to look at).

Sternutatorysearch for term

Medications applied to the nose to induce sneezing (Latin sternutatorius or sneezing).

Stypticsearch for term

A device or instrument to stop bleeding (L. stypticus, to contract).

Tenaculumsearch for term

A hooked instrument used to hold a vessel that is to be tied off (L. teneo, to hold).

The Royal Diseasesearch for term

Morbus Regius or jaundice which brings with it the color of gold.

Throwing Out the Baby with the Bath Watersearch for term

Baths consisted of a big tub filled with hot water. The man of the house bathed first in the clean water followed other men, then the women, the children, and finally all the babies. By then the water was so dirty that you didn't want to accidentally throw out the baby out with the bath water.

Tincturesearch for term

An alcoholic extract of a plant or animal often used as a medication, either for topical or oral use.

Tortoise Shellsearch for term

Horny (or artificial) plate from a turtle that was used in 19th century instruments.

Trephinesearch for term

A “T” shaped instrument used for removing a disk of bone, usually from the skull, also a verb (L. tres fines, three ends).

Trocarsearch for term

A sharp instrument with a three cornered tip that fits into a cannula, used to remove fluid from a cavity (F. trocart, from trois, three, + carre, side of a sword blade).

Under the Weathersearch for term

Sailors who became seasick by rough seas and the rocking motion of the ship were sent below deck where the sway of the boat was not as exaggerated and where they were further away from the weather.

Vectissearch for term

A single bladed curved instrument used to aid in delivery (L. a lever or bar).

Venesectionsearch for term

Therapeutic bleeding (L. vena, vein + sectio, a cuttng).

Visited Housesearch for term

A house whose inhabitants have the plague.

…otomysearch for term

(G. tomos, cutting) – craniotomy (G. kranion, skull), lithotomy (G. lithos, stone).

…tomesearch for term

(G. tomos, cutting) – rachitome (G. rachis, spine), tonsillotome (L. tonsilla), urethretome (G. ourethra).