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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.


Restless tossing or jerking of the body in severe illness.

The dried root of a Mexican vine of the morning-glory family, used as a purgative.

James’ powder
“Antiscorbutic” powder invented by Robert James (1705-1776), although it turned out to be ineffective as a remedy for scurvy. It was made from antimony and phosphate of lime.

1. to be like jaundice
2. a medicine useful in curing jaundice.

Javan ague
A malarial fever peculiar to Java

Jenk's Alleviator
A machine for raising patients from bed in order to change the sheets (U.S. 19th cent.).

Jesuit’s bark
The medicinal bark of the cinchona; Peruvian bark. Source of quinine which is an effective therapy for malaria.

jimber jawed
Having a lower jaw that projects farther out than the upper jaw, so that the teeth do not meet.

A false medicine.

juice of figs
A laxative.

jury leg
A wooden leg which might have been made from a jury mast, a temporary mast used when the main mast is damaged (Grose).