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English Glossary of Causes of Death and other Archaic Medical Terms

Macerated Fetus

Having undergone reddening, loss of skin, and distortion of the features during retention in the uterus; macerated fetus. [Journal of the American Medical Association].

Example from a 1906 Death Certificate from Massachusetts:

Maculated Fever

Typhus Gravior


Softening, or loss of consistency, of an organ or tissue. [Random House].

A softening or loss of consistency in any of the organs or tissues. Also called malacosis, mollities. [American Heritage].

Softening of a part or tissue related to a disease or other abnormal condition. [Dorland's]

Origin: 1650–60; < NL < Gk malakía softness, tenderness, weakness.

Example from an 1864 Church Record in Münster, Switzerland:


Malacia. [American Heritage].


A term generally employed to designate certain effluvia or emanations from marshy ground. Hence the term marsh fever, in Europe; jungle fever in India. The malaria of Campagna is the name of an epidemic intermittent, arising from the aria cattiva, as it is called, exhaled from decaying vegetables in thee neighborhood of Rome, especially about the Pontine marshes. [Hoblyn1855]

an Italian colloquial word (from mala, bad, and aria, air), introduced into English medical literature by Macculloch (1827) as a substitute for the more restricted terms " marsh miasm " or " paludal poison." It is generally applied to the definite unhealthy condition of body known by a variety of names, such as ague, intermittent (and remittent) fever, marsh fever, jungle fever, hill fever, " fever of the country " and " fever and ague." A single paroxysm of simple ague may come upon the patient in the midst of good health or it may be preceded by some malaise. The ague-fit begins with chills proceeding as if from the lower part of the back, and gradually extending until the coldness overtakes the whole body. Tremors of the muscles more or less violent accompany the cold sensations, beginning with the muscles of the lower jaw (chattering of the teeth), and ex-tending to the extremities and trunk. The expression has meanwhile changed: the face is pale or livid; there are dark rings under the eyes; the features are pinched and sharp, and the whole skin shrunken; the fingers are dead white, the nails blue. All those symptoms are referable to spasmodic constriction of the small surface arteries, the pulse at the wrist being itself small, hard and quick. In the interior organs there are indications of a compensating accumulation of blood, such as swelling of the spleen, engorgement (very rarely rupture) of the heart, with a feeling of oppression in the chest, and a copious flow of clear and watery urine from the congested kidneys. The body temperature will have risen suddenly from the normal to 103 or higher. This first or cold stage of the paroxysm varies much in length; in temperate climates it lasts from one to two hours, while in tropical and subtropical countries it may be shortened. It is followed by the stage of dry heat, which will be prolonged in proportion as the previous stage is curtailed. The feeling of heat is at first an internal one, but it spreads outwards to the surface and to the extremities; the skin becomes warm and red, but remains dry; the pulse becomes softer and more full, but still quick; and the throbbings occur in exposed arteries, such as the temporal. The spleen continues to enlarge; the urine is now scanty and high-colored; the body temperature is high, but the highest temperatures occur during the chill; there is considerable thirst; and there is the usual intellectual unfitness, and it may be confusion, of the feverish state. This period of dry heat, having lasted three or four hours or longer, comes to an end in perspiration, at first a mere moistness of the skin, passing into sweating that may be profuse and even drenching. Sleep may overtake the patient in the midst of the sweating stage, and he awakes, not without some feeling of what he has passed through, but on the whole well, with the temperature fallen almost or altogether to the normal, or it may be even below the normal; the pulse moderate and full; the spleen again of its ordinary size; the urine that is passed after the paroxysm deposits a thick brick-red sediment of urates. The three stages together will probably have lasted six to twelve hours. The paroxysm is followed by a definite interval in which there is not only no fever, but even a fair degree of bodily comfort and fitness; this is the intermission of the fever. Another paroxysm begins at or near the same hour next day (quotidian ague), which results from a double tertian infection, or the interval may be forty eight hours (tertian ague), or seventy-two hours (quartan ague). It is the general rule, with frequent exceptions, that the quotidian paroxysm comes on in the morning, the tertian about noon, and the quartan in the afternoon. Another rule is that the quartan has the longest cold stage, while its paroxysm is shortest as a whole; the quotidian has the shortest cold stage and a long hot stage, while its paroxysm is longest as a whole. The point common to the various forms of ague is that the paroxysm ceases about midnight or early morning. Quotidian intermittent is on the whole more common than tertian in hot countries; elsewhere the tertian is the usual type, and quartan is only occasional. [Britannica1911].

(Italian bad air; formerly called ague in English) is a tropical disease which causes about half a billion infections and 2 million deaths annually, mainly in tropical countries and especially in sub-Saharan Africa. The cause of malaria was discovered by a French army doctor Charles Louis Alphonse Laveran. For this discovery he was awarded Nobel Prize in 1907. The symptoms are fever, shivering, pain in the joints, vomiting, and convulsions; especially in young children, the disease can lead to coma and death if untreated. Malaria is caused by the protozoan parasite Plasmodium (mainly P.falciparum and P.vivax, but also more rarely P.ovale and P.malariae), one of the Apicomplexa, which travels in the Anopheles mosquito and, after the mosquito bites the host, infects hepatic cells in the liver and then circulating red blood cells. [Wikipedia].

Fact sheet from CDC
Information sheet from NYS Dept of Health
Fact sheet from WHO

Example from an 1885 Death Record from Michigan:

Malarial Cachexia

is a term applied to a group of conditions, more or less chronic, the result of an antecedent attack of severe malarial fever, or a succession of such attacks, or of prolonged exposure to malarial influences. [Manson1898]

Chronic Malarial Fever

Malarial Fever

A fever produced by malaria, and characterized by the occurrence of chills, fever, and sweating in distinct paroxysms, At intervals of definite and often uniform duration, in which these symptoms are wholly absent (intermittent fever), or only partially so (remittent fever); fever and ague; chills and fever. [Webster].

Example from an 1891 Death Certificate from West Virginia:

Example from an 1921 Death Certificate from Georgia:

Chronic Malarial Fever

A persistent fever of an irregular type, partaking of the nature of both the intermittent and remittent fevers, and characterized by anemia; the skin being either sallow, doughy, and inelastic, or dry and constricted; there is enlargement of the spleen, congestion of the portal circulation, and disordered condition of the digestive apparatus. [Thomas1907]






A malignant tumor.

Malignant Fever

Fever which may make its approaches insidiously and subsequently becomes formidable. Any fever which exhibits a very dangerous aspect. Typhus Gravior. [Dunglison1874].

Example from a 1734 London, England Death Record:

Malignant Purpuric Fever

Cerebro-spinal fever or epidemic cerebro-spinal meningitis, popularly called spotted fever, is an infectious disease occurring sporadically or in epidemics, and due to the diplococcus intracellularis discovered by Weichselbaum in 1887. This disease was not recognized until the 19th century. In Great Britain it first showed itself in the Irish workhouses in1846, where it was known as the black death or malignant-purpuric fever. [Britannica1911].


Defective nutrition. [Appleton1904].

Poor nutrition caused by an insufficient, oversufficient, or poorly balanced diet or by a medical condition, such as chronic diarrhea, resulting in inadequate digestion or utilization of foods. [American Heritage].

Example from a 1919 Death Certificate from Georgia:




Violent derangement of mind; madness; insanity. [Webster1913]

Acute  Mania

An excited mental state seen in a bipolar (manic-depressive) disorder characterized by hyperactivity, talkativeness, flight of ideas, pressured speech, grandiosity, and, occasionally, grandiose delusions. [CancerWEB]


A wasting away of flesh, without fever or apparent disease. [Hooper1829].

Emaciation; a wasting of the body; formerly a generic term for atrophy, tabes, and phthisis. [Hoblyn1855]

Atrophy. [Dunglison1868].

A kind of atrophy; a wasting of flesh without fever or apparent disease. The continuous low condition of nutrition as it is caused by bad nourishment or occurs normally in old age. [Appleton1904].

Malnutrition occurring in infants and young children, caused by an insufficient intake of calories or protein and characterized by thinness, dry skin, poor muscle development, and irritability. In the mid-nineteenth century, specific causes were associated with specific ages: In infants under twelve months old, the causes were believed to be unsuitable food, chronic vomiting, chronic diarrhea, and inherited syphilis. Between one and three years, marasmus was associated with rickets or cancer. After the age of three years, caseous (cheeselike) enlargement of the mesenteric glands (located in the peritoneal fold attaching the small intestine to the body wall) became a given cause of wasting. (See tabes mesenterica.) After the sixth year, chronic pulmonary tuberculosis appeared to be the major cause. Marasmus is now considered to be related to Kwashiorkor, a severe protein deficiency. [NGSQ1988].

A progressive wasting of the body, occurring chiefly in young children and associated with insufficient intake or malabsorption of food. [Heritage].

A condition of chronic undernourishment occurring especially in children and usually caused by a diet deficient in calories and proteins but sometimes by disease (as congenital syphilis) or parasitic infection called also athrepsia. [Merriam-Webster2002].

Example from an 1828 death certificate from Pennsylvania:

Example from a Mecklenburg, Germany Church Death Record:

General Marasmus

Wasting or decay of the entire body and vital forces, as from long continued pain, loss of sleep, starvation, etc. [Appleton1904].

Marfan's Syndrome

An autosomal dominant disease characterized by elongated bones (especially of limbs and digits) and abnormalities of the eyes and circulatory system. [Wordnet]

Marsh Fever

Malarial Fever

Mask of Pregnancy



Inflammation of the breast. Also called mammitis, mastadenitis.




A contagious febrile disorder commencing with catarrhal symptoms, and marked by the appearance on the third day of an eruption of distinct red circular spots, which coalesce in a crescentic form, are slightly raised above the surface, and after the fourth day of the eruption gradually decline; rubeola. [Webster1913].
Rubeola. The name "measles" comes from the Middle English "maselen" meaning "many little spots" referring to the rash that is characteristic of measles. Rubeola refers specifically to the reddish color of the rash. [Medicinenet]

"measles" was first used: sometime in the early 14th century. [Webster].

Fact sheet from CDC
Information sheet from NYS Dept of Health
Information Card from the CDC

Example from an 1866 death certificate from West Virginia:

Baby Measles

Exanthem Subitum

Bastard Measles


Black Measles

There are two forms of black measles -one in which the eruption consists of petechial spots scattered over the surface, and dependent upon a hemorrhagic tendency; in the other form the eruption assumes a dark appearance on account of changes which have occurred in the blood, the result of a very high temperature at an early period of the attack. [Loomis1895].

During an attack of measles, if at the latter period the respiration should become accelerated, the temperature rise, and especially if there should be some blueness around the finger or toe nails, the greatest apprehension may be warranted. These symptoms indicate that pneumonia is developing. The occurrence of blueness is evidence that oxygenation of the blood is defective, and is of the gravest omen. The aspect of the patient when the blueness has spread to the face and other parts of the body has given the name "black measles" to this severe form of the disease. As everyone knows, black measles is extremely fatal. [Reporter1890]

Camp Measles


False Measles


Fire Measles

Synonym of Rotheln. [Gould1916]

French Measles


German  Measles


Hard Measles


Hybrid Measles


Malignant Measles

Rubella. This variety differs from the more simple form in the toxic character of the infection, the surface presenting a dusky or dark purplish hue. [Thomas1907]

Red Measles





The black disease; hence the name of the black jaundice. A term adopted by Sauvages from the writings of Hippocrates, to denote the occurrence of dark colored, grumous, and pitchy evacuations, generally accompanied by sanguineous vomiting. [Hoblyn1855]

Black Jaundice. [Dunglison1855]

A vomiting of concrete, blackish blood, mixed with acid, or phlegm; the black vomit. A form of melaena in which the skin is of a very dark color, has received the name black jaundice. [Thomas1875]

A condition marked by black, tarry stool or vomit composed largely of blood that has been acted on by gastric juices, resulting from a hemorrhage along the digestive tract. [Heritage]

Example from an 1856 Church Record in Münster, Switzerland:

Example from an 1886 death certificate from Illinois:

Melancholy / Melancholia

Melancholy is that state of alienation or weakness of mind which renders people incapable of enjoying the pleasures, or performing the duties of life. It is a degree of insanity, and often terminates in absolute madness. [Buchan1785].

A disease supposed, by the ancients, to be caused by black bile. A variety of mental alienation, characterized by excessive gloom, mistrust, and depression, generally, with insanity on one particular subject or train of ideas, or on a few subjects. Melancholy is also used for unusual gloominess of disposition. [Dunglison1868].

A gloomy state of mind; mental depression that is of some continuance or is habitual. [Appleton1904].

A mental condition characterized by great depression of spirits and gloomy forebodings.[].

Example from a 1906 Death Certificate from Massachusetts:

Example from a 1923 death certificate from New Brunswick, Canada:

Memento Mori

A reminder of your mortality. [Wordnet]


Inflammation of the meninges (the three membranes covering the brain and spinal cord), especially of the pia mater and arachnoid - caused by a bacterial or viral infection and characterized by high fever, severe headache, and stiff neck or back muscles, Synonym: brain fever. [NGSQ1988]

A disease that may be either a mild illness caused by a virus (as the coxsackievirus) or a more severe usually life-threatening illness caused by a bacterium (especially the meningococcus or the serotype designated B of Hemophilus influenzae), that may be associated with fever, headache, vomiting, malaise, and stiff neck, and that if untreated in bacterial forms may progress to confusion, stupor, convulsions, coma, and death. [Webster]

Information Card from the CDC

Example from an 1898 Cemetery record from Maine:

Basilar Meningitis

That affecting the meninges at the base of the brain. [Dorland].

Example from a 1929 death certificate from New Brunswick, Canada:

Cerebro-Spinal Meningitis

An alarmingly fatal form of epidemic fever, which prevailed in different countries of Europe, and in certain portions of the United States, during the middle of the 19th century more especially. It is attended with painful contraction of the muscles of the neck, and retraction of the head, headache, vertigo, delirium, coma, pain in the back and limbs, tetanoid phenomena, hyperaesthesia of the skin, and, in certain epidemics, by a purpuric eruption, Spotted Fever. [Dunglison1874]

Inflammation of the meninges of both brain and spinal cord; specifically : an infectious epidemic and often fatal meningitis caused by the meningococcus called also cerebrospinal fever. [Webster].

Example from a 1919 Death Certificate from Georgia:

Epidemic Cerebro-Spinal Meningitis

A febrile, and often malignant, but non-contagious disease of unknown origin; usually occurring as a local epidemic; confined hitherto to the North American and European continents, and to the vicinity of the latter; characterized by its rapid and irregular course, and usually by a tetanic rigidity or retraction of the neck, a tendency to disorganization of the blood, and the formation of inflammatory exudates beneath the membranes of the brain and spinal cord. Synonyms - spotted fever; petechial fever; malignant purpuric fever; black death; febris nigra; epidemic meningitis. [Pepper1885].

Epidemic Meningitis

Meningitis caused by bacteria and often fatal. [Wordnet]

Spinal Meningitis

Inflammation of the membranes enclosing the spinal cord, especially a usually fatal form that affects infants and young children and is caused by a strain of gram-negative bacteria (Hemophilus influenzae) [Heritage].

Example from an 1890 Death Certificate from Illinois:


A protrusion of the meninges through an opening in the skull or spinal column, forming a bulge or sac filled with cerebrospinal fluid. [].

Example from a 1919 Death Certificate from Michigan:


The period marked by the natural and permanent cessation of menstruation, occurring usually between the ages of 45 and 55. [Webster]


Abnormally heavy or prolonged menstruation; can be a symptom of uterine tumors and can lead to anemia if prolonged. [Webster]

Mental Aberration

A rather vague term for a condition in which the mind acts abnormally, but which does not necessarily amount to insanity. [Appleton1904]

Mental Illness

Any of various conditions characterized by impairment of an individual's normal cognitive, emotional, or behavioral functioning, and caused by social, psychological, biochemical, genetic, or other factors, such as infection or head trauma. Also called emotional illness, mental disease, and mental disorder. [Heritage]

Mesenteric Disease

Tabes Mesenterica


1. A dropsy of the belly, accompanied by a considerable distension from wind in the bowels. 2. A tympanitic state of the abdomen, that takes place in acute diseases suddenly and unexpectedly, as does the appearance of a meteor in the heavens. [Hooper1829].

Flatulent distention of the abdomen; tympanites. [Webster]


Inflammation of the uterus.


Non-menstrual discharge of blood from the uterus; uterine hemorrhage. [].

Example from an 1856 Church Record in Münster, Switzerland:

Mianeh Fever

A form of relapsing fever endemic to the Middle East. [Webster]


Floating and impalpable morbific effluvia, the product of decay or putrefaction of animal and vegetable substances. [Thomas1875]

 Morbid emanation, animal or vegetable. [Cleaveland1886]

Infectious particles or germs floating in the air; air made noxious by the presence of such particles or germs; noxious effluvia; malaria. [Webster1913].

A poisonous vapor or mist believed to be made up of particles from decomposing material that could cause disease and could be identified by its foul smell. The miasma theory of disease originated in the Middle Ages and persisted for centuries. During the Great Plague of 1665, doctors wore masks filled with sweet-smelling flowers to keep out the poisonous miasmas. Because of the miasmas, they sanitized some buildings, required that night soil be removed from public proximity and had swamps drained to get rid of the bad smells. [Medicinenet]

Idio Miasma

Human effluvia; exhalation from human decomposition or excrements. [Cleaveland1886]

Marsh Miasma

Exhalation from marshy grounds. [Cleaveland1886]


An often familial symptom complex of periodic attacks of vascular headache, usually temporal and unilateral in onset, commonly associated with irritability, nausea, vomiting, constipation or diarrhea, and often photophobia. Attacks are preceded by constriction of the cranial arteries, often with resultant prodromal sensory (especially ocular) symptoms and the spreading depression of Leão; the migraines themselves commence with the vasodilation that follows. [Dorland]


A fever accompanied by an eruption of small, isolated, red pimples, resembling a millet seed in form or size; miliary fever. [Webster]

Miliary Fever

It is so called from the eruption resembling the seed of the milium or millet. Fever, accompanied by an eruption of small, red. isolated pimples, rarely confluent, but almost always very numerous, slightly raised above the skin, and presenting, at the end of 24 hours, a small vesicle filled with a white transparent fluid, which quickly dries up, and separates in the form of scales. [Dunglison1868].

Sweating Sickness. Epidemic in the 15th and 16th centuries and characterized by profuse sweating and high mortality. [Wordnet].

Military fever Military fever is another name for typhus. [Medical Times and Gazette, J.A.Churchill, 1861].

Milk Crust

An inflammatory disease of the skin, characterized by the presence of redness and itching, an eruption of small vesicles, and the discharge of a watery exudation, which often dries up, leaving the skin covered with crusts; -- called also tetter and salt rheum. [Webster]


Variola Minor


William Miller of Northern NY was a religious cult leader with a huge and zealous following, known as Millerites. The religion was called Millerism; the origin of the Seventh-Day Adventists. Miller used complex prophetic number systems and calculated the date of the Second Coming. The date of this event was November 22, 1844. Jesus did not appear as expected. Following "The Great Disappointment," institutions for the insane were furnishing proofs of the mental ravages Millerism was causing throughout the country. "Miller Maniacs" were brought to the doors of insane asylums nearly every day, including an admission noted here at Bloomingdale’s. "Worn out and exhausted by ceaseless religious orgies, many broke down completely and became hopelessly insane." The Millerite Movement ended with the Albany Conference, early in 1845.


Spontaneous Abortion.

Example from a 1790 Death Record from England:

Millet Aphthae, Miliary fever. [Dunglison1868]
Millet Seed Rash Miliary fever. [Dunglison1868]

Miserere Mei

(Have compassion on me: so called from its unhappy torments.) The iliac passion. [Hooper1829].

Literally, Pity me; a name given to the iliac passion, or ileus, from the pain it creates. [Hoblyn1855]

Ileus [Dunglison1868].

Example from a Mennonite church in Tragheimerweide, Prussia:


Great unhappiness; extreme pain of body or mind; wretchedness; distress; woe. [Webster]


A disorder of the liver, mentioned by Avicenna, accompanied with a sense of heaviness, tumor, inflammation, pungent pain, and blackness of the tongue. [Hooper1829].

Missouri Mange



Preternatural softness of an organ or part of an organ. [Dunglison1874].

Abnormal softening. [Dorland's].

Malacia. [American Heritage].

Mongolian Blue Spots

Mongolian spots are flat bluish to bluish gray skin markings that commonly appear at birth (or shortly thereafter). [MedlinePlus]


Down's Syndrome

Infectious Mononucleosis

A common, acute, infectious disease, usually affecting young people, caused by Epstein-Barr virus and characterized by fever, swollen lymph nodes, sore throat, and lymphocyte abnormalities. [Wordnet]

Information sheet from NYS Dept of Health


Unnatural formation of a fetus. [Cleaveland1886].

A foetus or infant with such pronounced developmental anomalies as to be grotesque and usually nonviable. [CancerWEB]


Shortsighted; purblind. [Webster]

Morbid Appetite


Mormal / Mortmal / Morrimal

A bad sore; gangrene; a cancer. [Webster]


A scurfy eruption. [Webster]


Death or decay of one part of a living body; gangrene or necrosis. [Heritage].

Example from a 1734 Death Record from England:

Example from an 1855 death certificate from West Virginia:

Cold Mortification


Hot Mortification




Mother Spots

Maculæ maternæ. Congenital spots and discolorations of the skin. [Hoblyn1900].

Mountain Fever

Typhoid Fever, Enteric Fever. [A Treatise on the Continued Fevers, Wilson, 1881].

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.

Mountain Sickness

Altitude sickness brought on by the diminished oxygen pressure at mountain elevations. [Heritage]

Mucous Fever

Adenomeningeal Fever


Chilbains on the heel. [Dunglison1874]


A griping of the intestines; Colic. [Slang]

Mummification Necrosis

Dry Gangrene

The Mumps

An infectious acute viral disease affecting the parotid glands. Common symptoms include weakness, fever, sore throat, malaise and puffiness to the cheeks; Cynanche Parotidea. [CancerWEB].
"mumps" was first used in popular English literature: sometime before 1841. [Webster]
Information sheet from NYS Dept of Health
Information Card from the CDC




The act of mutilating, or the state of being mutilated; deprivation of a limb or of an essential part. [Webster1913]


Inflammation of the spinal cord.

Transverse Myelitis

Transverse myelitis is a neurological disorder caused by inflammation across both sides of one level, or segment, of the spinal cord. The term myelitis refers to inflammation of the spinal cord; transverse simply describes the position of the inflammation, that is, across the width of the spinal cord. [National Institute of Health].

Example from a 1921 death certificate from Illinois:


A congenital defect of the central nervous system in which a sac containing part of the spinal cord and its meninges protrude through a gap in the vertebral column; frequently accompanied by hydrocephalus and mental retardation. [Wordnet].

Example from a 1928 death certificate from New Brunswick, Canada:


A disease caused by decreased activity of the thyroid gland in adults and characterized by dry skin, swellings around the lips and nose, mental deterioration, and a subnormal basal metabolic rate. [Heritage]