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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.


A medicine derived from a plant of the genus Valeriana used as a stimulant or antispasmodic.

valley fever
Posada's disease or coccidioidomycosis.

A morbid condition supposed to be caused by the presence of nasty exhalations; depression of spirits, hypochondria, hysteria, or other nervous disorder. Females were supposed to be particularly predisposed to this condition (Common c.1665-1750).

venereal disease
A sexually transmitted disease such as syphilis or gonorrhea.

venereals, venereal medicines
Drugs used to treat venereal diseases.

venerem omitte
Sexual activity prohibited.

Venice treacle
An electuary on a honey or molasses base, formerly used as antidote for poisonous bites or for poisons. Also called orvietan or theriac.

Infested with vermin, eg fleas or lice.

A vein or artery.

vicious constitutions of body
Serious physical conditions arising from mental problems.

vicious habits of body
General bad health practices, especially over-indulgence in alcohol, laudanum and sex.

Used as an antiseptic.

virgoes intactoes
Women who have not had sexual intercourse.

visceral humours
The digestive system.

vital principle
A force, neither physical or chemical, believed in many cultures to be the essence of life.

Bodily organs.

As in "a vomit" or purgative. A medicine used to cause a patient to vomit. Purgatives were integral to heroic medicine based on the humour theory that illness was caused by an imbalance in bodily elements.