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Antique and Obscure Words for Students in the History of Health and Medicine

The words we use reflect our society and come in and out of usage as our society changes. The words in these lists have largely faded out of current use but they fill the older publications.

N

naevus
A congenital growth or pigmented blemish on the skin; a birthmark.

narcosis
Unconsciousness induced by narcotics.

natural humors
Four fluids - blood, phlegm, yellow bile (choler) and black bile (melancholy) traditionally believed to constitute the body.

naval surgeon
A surgeon operating on a naval ship. He was not a physician so he was addressed as "Mister" and not "Doctor". He was Mr. Smith, not Dr. Smith.

necessary pot
A chamber pot or portable toilet often kept in the bedrooms or under the sideboard in the dining room.

necrosis of the bone
Osteomyeltis. Infection and inflamation of the bone (OED 1865).

needling
A Western word for acupuncture which began to be used in the West at the end of the 19th century to relieve lower-back pain. Osler used ordinary hat pins on one of  his patient’s lower back which made his patient swear loudly in pain. No benefit was found in this case but Osler testified to the treatments ‘extraordinary and prompt efficacy in many instances’ (Bliss. p. 97.)

the needles
Popular term for diarrhoea (U.K. 19th-early 20th cent) (Worth p. 205).

nepenthe
1.A drug, inducing sleep, forgetfulness of grief or pleasurable dreaminess. First mentioned in Homer's Odyssey.
2.A sherry-based tincture of opium and morphine. (OED 1728)

necrologist
A person who writes obituaries (OED 1803).

neuralgia
Pain, typically stabbing or burning, in the area served by a nerve (OED 1807).

neurasthenia
A disorder characterized by feelings of fatigue and lassitude, with vague physical symptoms such as headache, muscle pain, and subjective sensory disturbances, originally attributed to weakness or exhaustion of the nerves and later considered a form of neurotic disorder. Also called the English malady, nerve exhaustion (OED 1829).

nerve exhaustion
A disorder characterized by feelings of fatigue and lassitude, with vague physical symptoms such as headache, muscle pain, and subjective sensory disturbances, originally attributed to weakness or exhaustion of the nerves and later considered a form of neurotic disorder. Also called the English malady, neurasthenia (OED 1829).

nerve specialist
A neurologist. A doctor who specializes in neurology, anything to do with the nervous system (OED 1889).

nervous debility and fatigue
An all-purpose diagnosis used to describe illness common to factory workers suffering from chronic malnutrition, chronic fatigue caused by overwork, and chronic headaches caused by workplaces with incessant noise and heat and lack of fresh air.

nightingale; nightingale nurses
A nurse; nurses, named after Florence Nightingale, who created professional nursing, wrote curriculum for nursing schools and designed hospitals (OED 1855).

night soil; night soil men; night soil carts
Human excrement removed (esp. at night) from cesspools, outdoor privies, etc. (OED 1721).

nimgimmer, nimglimmer
1.A physician (OED 1699).
2. A physician or surgeon who specializes in treating venereal diseases (U.S. 19th cent.).

nit nurse
An affectionate term for a school nurse who checked students for head lice (OED 1942).

nitrous oxide
A colourless gas, N2O, made by heating ammonium nitrate, which has a faint sweetish odour and taste, and when inhaled produces unconsciousness or, at lower concentrations, a feeling of exhilaration; also called laughing gas. Used as an anaesthetic. Addictive. (OED 1799).

nobble
To disable a horse, as by drugging.

nostrum
Quack medicine.

noxious
Poisonous.

noxious damps
Unhealthy moist air.

noxious principle
A poison that causes disease.

Nuisance Diseases
Coined by American public health workers to refer to common, nonfatal infections that proliferate in schools such as athletes foot, pink eye, impetigo, scabies, ringworm, pediculosis and trench mouth.

nutritum

An ointment consisting of an emulsion of an oil and vinegar; spec. one containing litharge (OED 1400).

nutriture
Fostering, caring for children (OED 1567).

nutrix
A nurse who cares for children, a foster mother (OED 1475).

nympholept
One in the clutches of a demonic enthusiasm or frenzy, held by the ancients to seize one bewitched by a nymph.