"chicken pox"--why "chicken"?

Mark Odegard markodegard at HOTMAIL.COM
Sun May 13 04:54:05 UTC 2001

A guess. The vesicles of chicken pox look a little like the skin of a
plucked chicken.

As for the statement
'"Chick-pea" is defined as "A dwarf species of pea',
a chickpea is rather large. Peas can be large, but garbanzos are quite
large. The other name for _Cicer arietinum_ is 'garbanzo'. The dried pea is
ground into a flour to make hummus or falafel, or served whole with salads.
The dwarfness might refer to the habit of the plant itself, but I have no
knowledge beyond what I've already said.

>    I have been asked why "chicken" appears in "chicken pox" and was
>surprised to find out that there is no clear answer.
>      OED2 says: "Generally supposed to have been named from the
>mildness of the disease. Fagge _Princ. & Pract. Med._ I.234,
>conjectures an allusion to chick-pease."
>      "Chick-pea" is defined as "A dwarf species of pea...." So I
>guess one could argue that "chick(en) pox" was originally a
>dwarf-version of small pox.  But somehow this seems forced.
>     For one thing, there's no direct attestation of "chick-pea pox"
>or "chick pox." There's only "chicken pox" (first attestation:
>1727-38). Also, OED2 quotes the _Med.Journal_ III.440: "Is there not
>the strongest probability that the swine and the chicken pox derived
>their origin at some distant period from the animals whose names they
>     Would anyone have any idea at all why "chicken" turns up in "chicken
>---Gerald Cohen

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