Get the CD, Book or Download the Glossary

English Glossary of Causes of Death and other Archaic Medical Terms


A raised mark on the skin. [Dorland]

Want of Breath

Apnea. It owes its name to a Greek word, apnea, meaning "want of breath."

Example from an 1853 death record from Kentucky:

War Fever

Epidemic Typhus


A popular term for the aura of epilepsy. [Tuke1892]


A hard rough lump growing on the skin, caused by infection with certain viruses and occurring typically on the hands or feet. [Dorland]

Wasting Disease

Pulmonary Tuberculosis. Involving the lungs with progressive wasting of the body. [Webster1913]

Water Brain Fever

Hydrocephalus Internus

Water Brash


Water Canker

Certain sloughing or gangrenous ulcers of the mouth - so called, perhaps, because they are often accompanied with an afflux of saliva. [Dunglison1874]

Water on the Brain


Example from an 1890 death record from Michigan:

Water in the Head


Example from a 1758 Death Record from England:

Water on the Chest


Water Qualm

Water Brash

Water Stroke

Hydrocephalus Internus


Provincial term for varicella. [Dunglison1868]



Watery Gripes

A popular name for a dangerous disease of infancy, common in England, which does not differ essentially from cholera infantum of this country. [Dunglison1868].

Example from a 1750 Death Record from England:


The quality or state of being weak; want of strength or firmness; lack of vigor; want of resolution or of moral strength; feebleness. [Webster]

Weaning Brash

Cholera Infantum. A severe form of diarrhea which sometimes attacks children just weaned. [Webster]



Weeping Eczema

A moist, eczematous dermatitis. [CancerWEB]


A raised mark on the skin. [Dorland]


A name given to circumscribe, indolent tumors, without inflammation or change of color of the skin. They may be met with in almost every part of the body. Their magnitude, as well as nature, is very variable. The term is sometimes given to an encysted tumor, and to bronchocele. [Dunglison1874].

A harmless cyst, especially on the scalp or face, containing the fatty secretion of a sebaceous gland. [Heritage]

Western Itch Scabies
Wet Lung Pulmonary edema, abnormal, diffuse, extra vascular accumulation of fluid in the pulmonary tissues and air spaces due to changes in hydrostatic forces in the capillaries or to increased capillary permeability; it is characterized clinically by intense dyspnea and, in the intra-alveolar form, by voluminous expectoration of frothy pink serous fluid and, if severe, by cyanosis. [Dorland]


A small swelling on the skin, as from an insect bite, that usually itches or burns. [Dorland]




Whitlow. [Dunglison1874].

The Whites

Leucorrhoea. Flour Albis in Latin. [Hooper1822]

White Blisters

Rupia escharotica, known in Ireland under the names white blisters, eating hives, and burnt holes. [Dunglison1874]

White Blood Lymph fluid, the complementary fluid that shadows blood movement in the body.

White Death

Pulmonary Tuberculosis

White Gum

Strophulus Albidus

White Lung

Pneumonia alba, a fatal desquamative pneumonia of the newborn resulting from congenital syphilis and characterized by white fatty degeneration of the lungs, which appear pale and virtually airless. Called also white pneumonia. [Dorland]


Variola Minor

White Swelling

Tuberculosis of Bones and Joints.

Example from a 1740 Death Record from England:

Example from an 1836 death certificate from West Virginia:

White Throat Diphtheria.

The disease is referred in Chinese as bai hou (white throat).

There was white throat, or diphtheria. It was always referred to, in folklore anyway, as white throat.

On your Undefined page I came across the term “White throat” and the possible definition “diphtheria.” When I was in the first grade (early 1950s), one of my classmates died of diphtheria. Parents were notified to make sure their children had had recent DPT booster shots or to get gamma globulin shots for diphtheria, and when my mother took me to the doctor, I remember her telling him that I needed a booster shot for “White throat.” So, while I have no documentation to verify this definition, I do have a very clear memory of hearing it used. (I recall this very clearly because my teacher made us all learn to correctly pronounce and spell diphtheria.) [submitted by D. Govender]


Onychia; Paronychia. An inflammation at the end of one of the fingers, or thumbs, very painful, and much disposed to suppurate. The effusion may be immediately under the skin; among the tendons; or it may press on the periosteum; it is to this last, or malignant form, that the term felon is most correctly applied. [Hoblyn1865].

Paronychia. [Dunglison1874].

A herpes viral infection that results in a painful blistery eruption on one of the digits. [CancerWEB]

Whooping Cough

Pertussis. A highly contagious disease of the respiratory system, usually affecting children, that is caused by the bacterium Bordetella pertussis and is characterized in its advanced stage by spasms of coughing interspersed with deep, noisy inspirations. [Heritage].

It was first recognized after a whooping cough epidemic in Paris in 1578. It was known then as the "dog bark" the "chin" cough or "kin" cough meaning "convulsive" cough. [cmpmedica].

Example from an 1867 death certificate from West Virginia:

Example from an 1898 Cemetery record from Maine:



Winterbottom's Sign

is seen in the early phase of African trypanosomiasis, a disease caused by the parasites Trypanosoma brucei rhodiense and Trypanosoma brucei gambiense which is more commonly known as African sleeping sickness. Winterbottom's sign is the swelling of lymph nodes (lymphadenopathy) along the back of the neck, in the posterior cervical chain of lymph nodes, as trypanosomes travel in the lymphatic fluid and cause inflammation. [Wikipedia]

Winter Cough

A cough that comes on every winter and subsides with the advent of warm weather; usually due to chronic bronchitis. [Appleton1904]

Winter Fever

Pneumonia in southern Illinois and other malarial parts of the United States. [Appleton1904].

Winter Fieber - Example from a death record book from a German church in Indiana. Fieber is the German word for Fever:

Winter Itch

Pruritus Hiemalis: a dehydrated condition of the skin characterized by erythema, dry scaling, fine cracking, and pruritus, which occurs chiefly during the winter when low humidity in heated rooms causes excessive water loss from the stratum corneum. [Dorland]


An eating ulcer or sore. Cf. Lupus. [Obs.] [Webster]

Wolf Skin


Wolhynia Fever

Trench Fever


Madness. [Tuke1892]


There are chiefly of three kinds, viz. the taenia or tape-worm; the teres, or round and long worm; and the ascarides, or round and short worm. The tape-worm is white, very long, and full of joints. It is generally bred either in the stomach or small intestines. The round and long worm is likewise bred in the small guts, and sometimes in the stomach. The round and short worms commonly lodge in the rectum, or what is called the end gut, and occasion a disagreeable itching about the seat. The long round worms occasion squeamishness, vomiting, a disagreeable breath, gripes, looseness, swelling of the belly, swooning, loathing of food, and at other times a voracious appetite, a dry cough, convulsions, epileptic fits, and sometimes a privation of speech. These worms have been known to perforate the intestines, and get into the cavity of the belly. The effects of the tape-worm are nearly the same with those of the long and round, but rather more violent. The round worms called ascarides, besides an itching of the anus, cause swooning and tenesmus, or an inclination to go to stool. [Buchan1785].

Example from an 1898 Cemetery record from Maine:

Example from a 1921 Death Certificate from Georgia:

Worm Fever

Verminous Fever. See worm fits.

Worm Fits

When worms are generated in the intestines, they often produce the following symptoms; variable appetite, fetid breadth, acrid eructions and pains in the stomach, grinding of the teeth during sleep, picking of the nose, paleness of the countenance; sometimes dizziness, hardness and fullness of the belly; slimy stools, with occasional griping pains, more particularly about the navel, heat and itching about the anus; short dry cough; emaciation of the body; slow fever, with evening exacerbations and irregular pulse, and sometimes convulsive fits. [Hooper1843].

Example from an 1871 death record from Michigan:

Example from an 1897 death record from Michigan:

Wry Neck

This is a distortion, in which the head is drawn to one side, and the face is directed in the opposite direction; paralysis of the muscles allows the other to overpower it. [Wilson1893]