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7 Antiquated Illness Names and Their Meanings

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Throughout the ages, people have hung some pretty weird names on what’s ailed them. While many diseases took their monikers from a primitive understanding of the human body and the burgeoning scientific practice of using Latin and Greek nomenclature as the basis of medicine, others emerged colloquially as, more or less, the symptoms the affliction presented. Here are a few of the stranger ones, and how we know them today.

1. Then: Dropsy
Now: Edema

Essentially water retention, edema mainly afflicts those with congestive heart failure whose bodies are unable to eliminate fluid effectively. The archaic term originated in the Middle English “dropesie” via the Old French “hydropsie” via the Greek “hydrops” via the ancient Greek “hydor,” which means, you guessed it, water. Leave it to Shakespearean times to make something as silly-sounding as possible.

2. Then: Black Death
Now: Bubonic Plague

To be fair, even “Bubonic Plague” has a ring of whimsy, but there was nothing humorous (no pun intended) about it. Among the most ravaging pandemics in human history, the Plague raged in Europe from 1348 to 1350 and is estimated to have killed nearly 100 million people. Historians now know that the disease was caused by a bacterium, Yersinia pestis, which was transmitted from rat to flea to human. “Bubonic” comes from the Greek word for “groin,” and was so named for the swollen groin lymph nodes that a plague victim would exhibit at its onset. It took on the conversational “black” designation in a poetic nod to the dread and mourning left in its wake. Then again, it could aptly have been a physical description of a late-stage victim, who’d likely be unconscious or delirious and suffering from bleeding under the skin and widespread gangrene, making their skin appear black.

3. Then: Dry Bellyache
Now: Lead poisoning

Before we knew just how toxic lead is to humans, it was used for centuries in the production of both paint and rum. When painters and distillers began presenting symptoms ranging from abdominal pain and headaches to anemia and seizures, doctors were baffled and dubbed the condition “Dry Bellyache” and “Painters Colic.” What they didn’t realize was that constant exposure to the heavy concentration of lead in pre-industrialized paint and in the stills used to make rum was slowly poisoning the workers. Fortunately, science caught on to its effects, and the use of lead in manufacturing has dropped dramatically over the past few decades. However, the EPA warns that it still presents a threat owing to old lead paint in houses, soil and water contamination from outdated lead-based fixtures, and the small amount of lead still used in products such as bullets, ceramic glaze, and vinyl mini window blinds. Just in case you needed another reason to avoid vinyl mini blinds.

4. Then: King’s Evil
Now: Scrofula

Tuberculosis may very well be one of mankind’s oldest maladies, with human remains from 4000 BC showing signs of tubercular decay. Long feared and, until the past century, poorly understood, the bacteria would wreak havoc on a person’s lung tissue, literally consuming it from the inside. Scrofula is, essentially, TB of the lymph nodes in the neck. In the Middle Ages, when kings were considered divine, many believed that royalty could cure disease with nothing more than their touch. The “King’s Evil” ceremony typically featured the monarch bestowing “touched” coins or amulets on the suffering, which they would then wear and hope to be cured. The practice was so common that, by the Restoration, Charles II is rumored to have touched some 90,000 consumptives in a 22 year period. Obviously, people still died in legion, but the custom persisted in England, and then France, for another 200 years. Give ’em a break. The learning curve was slower in those days.

5. Then: Scrivener’s Palsy
Now: Writer’s cramp

Long before we could just rest our hands on a keyboard and churn out page after page with little effort, writer’s cramp was a serious and sometimes debilitating condition. The most frequently afflicted were scriveners—those whose job it was to take dictations and keep records at a time when very few people knew how to read and write. As their numbers were so few, they were in high demand and, likely, overworked. Some scriveners would experience loss of precision muscle control in their hands, as well as weakness, pain, and trembling. Cases could be severe, with referred pain spreading to the arms, legs, and jaw, and sometimes lead to total disability. Though writer’s cramp is still with us, scientists have come to believe that, along with other focal dystonia, it’s the result of a neurological malfunction that affects specific muscle groups. Local Botox injections have been shown to ease symptoms, with the added bonus of ageless-looking hands.

6. Then: Milk Leg
Now: Phlegmasia alba dolens

Also known as deep vein thrombosis, this condition was, and still is, seen often later in pregnancy and in women who have recently given birth. Sometimes, as the uterus enlarges in preparation for delivery, the common iliac vein—which runs from the lower abdomen to the upper thigh—will press against the pelvis and cause a blood clot to form. If the condition persists, normal circulation becomes impossible and the leg will swell painfully. The dairy designation may have caught on because of the pale color the leg will take (phlegmasia alba dolens translates to “painful white edema”), or because the swelling was thought to be an accumulation of milk in the expectant mother’s limb, a now-laughable idea.

7. Then: Dancing Mania
Now: Mass psychogenic illness

Sounds awesome, right? From the 14th to 17th century in Europe, thousands of people were suddenly and without reason moved to dance uncontrollably with little regard to how ridiculous they looked. What’s really changed, you ask? Well, at the height of the phenomenon, choreomania (from the Greek “choros” for dance and “mania” for madness) was known to waylay both men and women, children and the elderly, who would form groups and scream, sing, and dance for days on end until they’d collapse from exhaustion or, occasionally, dance themselves to death. Diagnoses throughout the ages have included epilepsy and Sydenham chorea, a side effect of the Streptococcus bacteria. Historians now generally agree that the movement was a mass psychogenic illness, a form of mass hysteria, in which a group exhibits similar physical symptoms because of social influence that have no recognizable physical cause. And all this without the help of Beiber.

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21 Phrases You Use Without Realizing You're Quoting Shakespeare
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William Shakespeare devised new words and countless plot tropes that still appear in everyday life. Famous quotes from his plays are easily recognizable; phrases like "To be or not to be," "wherefore art thou, Romeo," and "et tu, Brute?" instantly evoke images of wooden stages and Elizabethan costumes. But an incredible number of lines from his plays have become so ingrained into modern vernacular that we no longer recognize them as lines from plays at all. Here are 21 phrases you use but may not have known came from the Bard of Avon.

1. "WILD GOOSE CHASE" // ROMEO AND JULIET, ACT II, SCENE IV

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"Nay, if our wits run the wild-goose chase, I am done, for thou hast more of the wild-goose in one of thy wits than, I am sure, I have in my whole five. Was I with you there for the goose?" — Mercutio

This term didn't originally refer to actual geese, but rather a type of horse race.

2. "GREEN-EYED MONSTER" // OTHELLO, ACT III, SCENE III

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"O, beware, my lord, of jealousy! It is the green-eyed monster, which doth mock the meat it feeds on." — Iago

Before Shakespeare, the color green was most commonly associated with illness. Shakespeare turned the notion of being sick with jealousy into a metaphor that we still use today.

3. "PURE AS THE DRIVEN SNOW" // HAMLET, ACT III, SCENE I AND THE WINTER'S TALE, ACT IV, SCENE IV

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"Be thou as chaste as ice, as pure as snow, thou shalt not escape calumny. Get thee to a nunnery, go." — Hamlet

"Lawn as white as driven snow." — Autolycus

Though Shakespeare never actually used the full phrase "pure as the driven snow," both parts of it appear in his work. For the record, this simile works best right after the snow falls, and not a few hours later when tires and footprints turn it into brown slush.

4. "SEEN BETTER DAYS" // AS YOU LIKE IT, ACT II, SCENE VII

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"True is it that we have seen better days and have with holy bell been knolled to church, and sat at good men's feasts and wiped our eyes of drops that sacred pity hath engendered." — Duke Senior

The first recorded use of "seen better days" actually appeared in Sir Thomas More in 1590, but the play was written anonymously, and is often at least partially attributed to Shakespeare. We do know Shakespeare was a fan of the phrase; he uses "seen better days" in As You Like It, and then again in Timon of Athens.

5. "OFF WITH HIS HEAD" // RICHARD III, ACT III, SCENE IV

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"If? Thou protector of this damnèd strumpet, talk'st thou to me of "ifs"? Thou art a traitor—Off with his head." — Richard III

The Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland wasn't the first monarch with a penchant for liberating heads from bodies. Her famous catchphrase came from Shakespeare first.

6. "FOREVER AND A DAY" // AS YOU LIKE IT, ACT IV, SCENE I

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"Now tell me how long you would have her after you have possessed her." — Rosalind

"Forever and a day" — Orlando

We have the Bard to thank for this perfect fodder for Valentine's Day cards and middle school students' love songs.

7. "GOOD RIDDANCE" // TROILUS AND CRESSIDA, ACT II, SCENE I

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[Thersites exits]

"A good riddance." — Patroclus

Where would Green Day be without Shakespeare’s riposte? In addition to acoustic ballad titles, "good riddance" also applies well to exes, house pests (both human and insect), and in-laws.

8. "FAIR PLAY" // THE TEMPEST, ACT V, SCENE I

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"Yes, for a score of kingdoms you should wrangle, and I would call it fair play." — Miranda

Prospero's daughter never would have been able to predict that "fair play" is used more often now in sports than it is for the negotiation of kingdoms.

9. "LIE LOW" // MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING, ACT V, SCENE I

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"If he could right himself with quarreling, some of us would lie low." — Antonio

Shakespeare's plays contain brilliant wisdom that still applies today. In "lie low," he concocted the perfect two-word PR advice for every celebrity embroiled in a scandal.

10. "IT'S GREEK TO ME" // JULIUS CAESAR, ACT I, SCENE II

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"Nay, an I tell you that, Ill ne'er look you i' the face again: but those that understood him smiled at one another and shook their heads; but, for mine own part, it was Greek to me." — Casca

"It's all Greek to me” might possibly be the most intelligent way of telling someone that you have absolutely no idea what's going on.

11. "AS GOOD LUCK WOULD HAVE IT" // THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR, ACT III, SCENE V

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“As good luck would have it, comes in one Mistress Page; gives intelligence of Ford's approach; and, in her invention and Ford's wife's distraction, they conveyed me into a buck-basket.” — Falstaff

Determining whether a Shakespeare play is a comedy or a tragedy can largely be boiled down to whether good luck would have anything for the characters.

12. "YOU'VE GOT TO BE CRUEL TO BE KIND" // HAMLET, ACT III, SCENE IV

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"So, again, good night. I must be cruel only to be kind. Thus bad begins and worse remains behind." — Hamlet

Here’s an idiom that proves just because a character in a Shakespeare play said it doesn't necessarily mean it's always true. Hamlet probably isn't the best role model, especially given the whole accidentally-stabbing-someone-behind-a-curtain thing.

13. "LOVE IS BLIND" // THE MERCHANT OF VENICE, ACT II, SCENE VI

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"But love is blind, and lovers cannot see the pretty follies that themselves commit, for if they could Cupid himself would blush to see me thus transformèd to a boy." — Jessica

Chaucer actually wrote the phrase ("For loue is blynd alday and may nat see") in The Merchant’s Tale in 1405, but it didn't become popular and wasn't seen in print again until Shakespeare wrote it down. Now, "love is blind" serves as the three-word explanation for any seemingly unlikely couple.

14. "BE-ALL, END-ALL" // MACBETH, ACT I, SCENE VII

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"If the assassination could trammel up the consequence, and catch with his surcease success; that but this blow might be the be-all and the end-all here, but here, upon this bank and shoal of time, we’d jump the life to come." — Macbeth

Macbeth uses the phrase just as he’s thinking about assassinating King Duncan and, ironically, as anyone who's familiar with the play knows, the assassination doesn't turn out to be the "end all" after all.

15. "BREAK THE ICE" // THE TAMING OF THE SHREW, ACT I, SCENE II

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"If it be so, sir, that you are the man must stead us all, and me amongst the rest, and if you break the ice and do this feat, achieve the elder, set the younger free for our access, whose hap shall be to have her will not so graceless be to be ingrate." — Tranio (as Lucentio)

If you want to really break the ice, the phrase appears to have come from Thomas North, whose translation of Plutarch's Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans provided much of the inspiration for Shakespeare's ancient word plays. This is a great meta "did you know" fact for getting to know someone at speed dating.

16. "HEART OF GOLD" // HENRY V, ACT IV, SCENE I

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"The king's a bawcock, and a heart of gold, a lad of life, an imp of fame, of parents good, of fist most valiant." — Pistol

Turns out, the phrase "heart of gold" existed before Douglas Adams used it as the name of the first spaceship to use the Infinite Improbability Drive in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

17. "KILL WITH KINDNESS" // THE TAMING OF THE SHREW, ACT IV, SCENE 1

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"This is a way to kill a wife with kindness, and thus I'll curb her mad and headstrong humor." — Petruchio

The Shakespeare canon would contain a lot fewer dead bodies if his characters all believed they should kill their enemies with kindness instead of knives and poison.

18. "KNOCK, KNOCK! WHO'S THERE?" // MACBETH, ACT II, SCENE III

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"Knock, knock! Who's there, in th' other devil’s name?" — Porter

Though high school students suffering through English class may disagree, Shakespeare was a master of humor in his works, writing both slapstick comedy and sophisticated wordplay. And, as the Porter scene in Macbeth illustrates, he's also the father of the knock-knock joke.

19. "LIVE LONG DAY" // JULIUS CAESAR, ACT I, SCENE I

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"To towers and windows, yea, to chimney tops, your infants in your arms, and there have sat the livelong day with patient expectation to see great Pompey pass the streets of Rome." — Mureless

Today, the phrase "live long day" is pretty much exclusively reserved for those who have been working on the railroad.

20. "YOU CAN HAVE TOO MUCH OF A GOOD THING" // AS YOU LIKE IT, ACT IV, SCENE I

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"Why then, can one desire too much of a good thing?— Come, sister, you shall be the priest and marry us.—Give me your hand, Orlando.—What do you say, sister?" — Rosalind

Modern readers often call Shakespeare a visionary, far ahead of his time. For example: he was able to write about desiring too much of a good thing 400 years before chocolate-hazelnut spread was widely available.

21. "THE GAME IS AFOOT" // HENRY V, ACT III, SCENE I

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"The game's afoot: follow your spirit, and upon this charge cry 'God for Harry, England, and Saint George!'" — King Henry V

Nope! It wasn't Sir Arthur Conan Doyle who coined this phrase—Sherlock Holmes' most famous catchphrase comes from Henry V, although both characters do often tend to find themselves around dead bodies.

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How 9 Honolulu Neighborhoods Got Their Names
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The Aloha State’s largest city, Honolulu, is one of the most distinctive capitals in the United States, thanks to its colorful Polynesian history, World War II sites and museums, and melting-pot ethnic diversity. It’s also one of the few U.S. cities with a volcano looming over it—the iconic Diamond Head, known in Hawaiian as Lēʻahi. Honolulu is also unusual for a state capital in that most of its neighborhood names aren’t in English. Instead, almost every single district’s name comes from the Hawaiian language—one of the state’s two official languages—and they almost all have interesting backstories. (Honolulu itself means “calm harbor.”) Here are a few more.

1. WAIKIKI

Waikiki
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Once a seat of governmental power for the island of Oahu (likely due in no small part to the excellent surfing conditions), Waikiki became a popular tourist destination with the explosion of surf culture in Hollywood films in the late 1950s and early ’60s. The village itself, though, dates back to at least the 13th century, when it was mostly swampland—the word Waikiki means spouting water, after the springs and rivers that abounded in the area.

2. KAIMUKI

Located mauka (on the mountain side) of Diamond Head, Kaimuki is more down-to-earth than its glitzy neighbor Waikiki, with a reputation for eclectic boutiques, book stores, and affordable restaurants, but it has a legendary past. The word ka-imu-ki likely translates to “the oven,” referring to the (also known as ki, or Cordyline fruticosa) plant, a member of the asparagus family. It’s said that the mythical Menehune people steamed the plants in underground ovens on the hillside in the Kaimuki area.

3. ʻĀINA HAINA

A community east of Waikiki, ʻĀina Haina was for centuries called Wailupe, which means “kite water,” for the kite flying that was popular in the area. It was also the last outpost of the city, where the residential blocks turned into pig and dairy farms. It was one such dairy farm, in fact, that brought about its name change—the Hind-Clarke Dairy was once a leading local dairy best known for its ice cream parlor on Kalanianaole Highway, which runs through the area. When owner Robert Hind sold the dairy in 1946, the neighborhood was named after him: ʻĀina Haina means “Hind’s Land” in Hawaiian.

4. KAKAʻAKO

Kaka'ako Street Art
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Kakaʻako has seen a lot of change throughout the years. The neighborhood was originally home to agricultural terraces, fishponds, and salt ponds, which were considered highly valuable. In the 1880s, immigrant camps were built in Kakaʻako, which later became quarantine zones as smallpox, bubonic plague, and Hansen’s disease (more commonly known as leprosy) hit the island. By the ’40s, there were around 5000 working class people living in the area who came from as far away as Portugal and China. Around the same time, the area was becoming increasingly industrialized, with many of those people working at the Honolulu Iron Works. Today, Kakaʻako is known as a hip commercial area with craft cocktail bars and expensive condo buildings. But the word kakaʻako harkens back to its humble roots: It has been translated to mean a place to "chop, beat or prepare thatching," a reference to the local salt marshes where Hawaiians once gathered the grass for their roofs.

5. MAKIKI

Connecting downtown Honolulu and the Mānoa neighborhood, Makiki is a mix of blue-collar and well-to-do Honolulans, partially stemming from its past as a plantation district—both rich plantation owners and workers once lived there. It will probably always best be known as the childhood home of Barack Obama, however, who spent most of his youth living in his maternal grandparents’ apartment on Beretania Street. But long before the future president lived there, the valley was home to a basalt quarry, where the stone was specifically used to fashion octopus lures. This explains the name makiki—it’s the Hawaiian word for the weights in the lures.

6. MĀNOA

Just inland from downtown Honolulu, the neighborhood of Mānoa consists of an entire valley, stretching roughly between the Koʻolau Mountain Range and Lunalilo Freeway. Many Hawaiian myths are set in Mānoa; it’s said to be the home of the Menehune [PDF], who controlled the valley from a fort on Rocky Hill, near where Punahou School now sits. As for the name itself, mānoa is a Hawaiian word that translates to “thick,” “depth,” or “vast,” which certainly describes the valley itself.

7. MŌʻILIʻILI

The neighborhood of Mōʻiliʻili lies just across the freeway from the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, sandwiched between it and Waikiki. King William Lunalilo owned the land in the mid-19th century, and before that, Queen Kamamalu's summer cottages stood on the site where The Willows restaurant now stands. Mōʻiliʻili’s name comes from an old Hawaiian myth wherein three characters are teased by a moʻo, a mischievous lizard totem god, who then gets zapped by a lightning bolt and transformed into a pile of rocks, now a specific hill in the neighborhood of the old Hawaiian Church. Kamo'ili'ili means “pebble lizard” or “place of the pebble lizards,” and the name was later abbreviated to Mō’ili’ili. The neighborhood is also known as McCully-Mōʻiliʻili, after Lawrence McCully (1831-1892) of the Hawaiian Supreme Court.

8. KAPĀLAMA

The phrase “ka pā lama” translates to “the enclosure of lama wood,” and lama is the word for the Hawaiian ebony tree, which once heavily forested the area. Also called the Hawaiian persimmon for its astringent persimmon-like fruit, the lama tree is found on every Hawaiian island except Ni‘ihau and and Kaho'olawe. It was used by native Hawaiians for food, medicine, frames for fishing nets, and religious purposes, such as the construction of temples. The tree itself represented Laka, the goddess of hula dance, and the trees are used in the hula performances. While lama usually refers to the tree, the word itself literally translates as “light” in Hawaiian, and by extension enlightenment—because that’s what you attain when you learn the hula. These days, Kāpalama is often combined with the adjacent Liliha neighborhood and referred to as a conglomerate district, Liliha-Kāpalama.

9. PĀLOLO

View of Palolo Valley from Mu-Rang-Sa Buddhist Temple
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Like nearby Mānoa, Pālolo takes up an entire, very picturesque valley. Snuggled between Kaimuki and the mountains, the valley’s mauka (mountain side) is mostly agricultural land, home to orchid nurseries and grass farms, while the makai (ocean side) is densely residential, populated mostly by simple plantation-style cottages. Although it’s only four miles from downtown Honolulu and well within the city limits, Pālolo maintains a small-town, rural aesthetic, and as such, its name is appropriate: The word pālolo means “clay” and pertains to the type of the soil in the valley.

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