Glossary

Regularly updated (version 20 Jan 2015)

contingency. In historiography, “the central principle of all history — contingency. A historical explanation does not rest on direct deductions from laws of nature, but on an unpredictable sequence of antecedent states, where any major change in any step of the sequence would have altered the final result. This final result is therefore dependent, or contingent, upon everything that came before . . .” (Gould 1989, 283). I use the term, contingent event, to express the major change in a sequence of events that Gould describes.

counter-irritant. “Med. A medical appliance used to produce irritation of the surface of the body in order to counteract disease of more deeply-seated or distant parts.” Example of this usage from 1854 (OED, 577).

dropsy. Edema; water retention.

epidemic diseases. Sydenham’s general definition from the seventeenth century is still in use: diseases that are “prevalent among a people or a community at a special time, and produced by some special causes not generally prevalent in the affected locality” (OED, 239). Contrast with diseases endemic to a locality. By the nineteenth century, British usage limited epidemic diseases to seasonal fevers in susceptible individuals who inhaled miasmata produced during each epidemic’s unique set of constitutional factors. Epidemic fevers were by definition non-contagious.

epidemic constitution. Sydenham’s expression for environmental changes, especially variable atmospheric conditions, soil conditions, and climatic changes that in particular seasons acted on stagnant bodily humors to produce epidemic diseases.

effluvium. “The real (or supposed) outflow of material particles too subtle to be perceived by touch or sight; . . . An ‘exhalation’ affecting the sense of smell, or producing effects by being received into the lungs.” Examples of earliest usages from 1650s, latest from 1867 (OED, 836). During the middle third of the nineteenth century, effluvium and its plural, effluvia, were increasingly restricted to mean only morbid vapors emitted by victims of communicable diseases, and that is how the words are employed here.

epigastric. Epigastrium; pit of the stomach.

hæmatemesis. Hematemesis; passing blood by vomiting, occasionally in the stool as well..

infection. The theory of atmospheric infection rested on an assumption that communicable diseases spread when localized atmospheres became saturated with morbid emanations from a victim (especially respired air and clammy skin), and were then inhaled by healthy individuals. It was assumed that the blood was first affected, picking up the morbific agent as it circulated through the lungs, after which predisposition (constitutional or environmental) determined whether a person would develop the fever associated with that communicable disease. “[Asiatic cholera] is infectious in a similar manner to measles and scarlet or typhus fever; that is, not by contact, but from the inhalation into the lungs, along with the air, of the morbid effluvium given out from the body or bodies of the affected” (Copland, 1846, 517).

morning room. “A room used as a sitting room during the early part of the day.” Examples of this usage from 1822 and 1976 (OED, 1852).

phthisis. Tuberculosis in the lungs.

scullery. “A small room attached to a kitchen, in which the washing of dishes and other dirty work is done; a back kitchen.” Examples of this usage from 1753 and 1869 (OED, 2687).

stupe. “A piece of tow, flannel, or other soft substance, wrung out of hot liquor and medicated, for fomenting a wound or ailing part.” (OED, 3112).

surgery. “The room or office, often in a general practitioner’s house, where patients are seen and medicine dispensed.” Examples of this usage from 1846 and 1862 (OED, 3174).

unphilosophical. [contrary to experience?]

virus.  “A morbid principle [meaning embryo or germ] or poisonous substance produced in the body as the result of some disease, esp. one capable of being introduced into other persons or animals by inoculation or otherwise and of developing the same disease in them.” Earliest example of this usage is 1728, latest 1899 (OED, 3640).

water closet. “A closet or small room fitted up to serve as a privy, and furnished with water-supply to flush the pan and discharge its contents into a waste-pipe below.” Examples of this usage from 1825 and 1877 (OED, 3704).