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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.


keeled up
Disabled, in bed with illness or injury, Naval term (U.S. 19th cent.).

The leaves of an African/Arabian plant which have a narcotic effect when chewed.

A chapped or ulcerated chilblain, esp. one on the heel (OED 1387).

A person’s disposition, e.g.,  A man of a different kidney means he has different principles than his fellows (Grose).

kindle, in

king's evil
Scrofula, tubercolosis of the lymph glands, which in England and France was formerly supposed to be curable by the sovereign's touch (1387). The practice of touching for the king's evil continued from the time of Edward the Confessor to the death of Queen Anne in 1714. Touchpieces were given out to the afflicted as a amulet perhaps with residual powers.

king's touchpiece
A coin or medal (originally a gold angel, later, they were specially struck for the purpose in gold or silver) given by the sovereign to each person touched for the ‘king's evil’. It was worn around the neck of the afflicted as an amulet and preserved with care (OED 1387).

Joined together, especially regarding broken bones.

knocked on the head

A condition in which the legs are bent inwards so that the knees touch.