Seven-year itch

Stephen Goranson goranson at DUKE.EDU
Thu Jul 7 09:24:32 UTC 2011

America's Historical Newspapers
Ohio Statesman, page [4], col. 5 vol. I, iss. 115
March 26, 1839, Columbus, Ohio, Advertisement

Dr. Mason's Indian Vegetable Panacea....for the cure of....also, that corruption
so commonly known to the western country as the scab or seven year Itch, &c.

Stephen Goranson
From: American Dialect Society [ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On Behalf Of Michael Quinion [wordseditor at WORLDWIDEWORDS.ORG]
Sent: Thursday, July 07, 2011 4:30 AM
Subject: [ADS-L] Seven-year itch

A subscriber to World Wide Words asked about the origin of "seven-year
itch" (or "seven-year's itch"). John Ayto, in the Oxford Dictionary of
Slang, dates the sexual sense from 1936, but I've not been able to find an
example before the title of George Axelrod's play of 1952.

Might Ayto have been referring to this:

  1936 C. Sandburg People, Yes 112 'May you have the seven-year
  itch,' was answered, 'I hope your wife eats crackers in bed.'

though this seems to be a reference to the discomfort of the disease.
Safire asserted that the sexual sense was an invention of Axelrod's.

My subscriber quoted Walden (1854) in the original sense of a form of
scabies, which is the earliest in the OED. I found this some years ago:

  1845 Wisconsin Herald and Grant County Advertiser (Lancaster,
  Wisconsin), 4 Oct. 1/2 [page number uncertain] When Illinois
  caught Mormonism of Missouri, she caught something worse than
  the seven year itch.

Can anyone better either of these?

Michael Quinion
Editor, World Wide Words

The American Dialect Society -

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