"Chickenpox party" in American Speech spring 2004 issue

James A. Landau JJJRLandau at AOL.COM
Sun Apr 25 00:29:08 UTC 2004

The editors of "Among the New Words" in the latest (spring 2004) American
Speech were somewhat flabbergasted to run across "chicken-pox party" (first
citation given was 1995, by coincidence the same year that a chickenpox vaccine was
introduced.).  They should not have been surprised; the idea is almost 3
centuries old in the Englsih-speaking world.

>From URL http://www.halifax-today.co.uk/specialfeatures/triviatrail/s.html
Smallpox party
In 1715, Lady Mary Wortley Montague [1689-1762] suffered from smallpox and
was left with scarring on her face, and her brother died of the disease. Later,
during her travels in Turkey, where her husband was Ambassador, she learned of
the Turkish practice of ingrafting, that is, inoculating healthy children
with a mild form of smallpox to acquire immunity from the more virulent strains
of the disease. On her return to England in 1718, she introduced the practice,
and inoculated her own children in this way.

This caught on, and smallpox parties were held – bring a pustule! – at which
healthy people would prick the pustules of someone who had been inoculated
the previous week (and thus, had a mild form of the disease), then cut the skin
on their own arm and rub the pus into the cut, taking the virus and bringing
on a mild form of smallpox.

There were other ways of actively catching the disease. In some cases,
parents wrapped their children in the clothes or blankets of a smallpox victim,
attempting to cause a mild attack. In other cases, people made a powder by
grinding the scabs of a victim's pustules, then inhaled the powder to bring on a mild

Once vaccination had been discovered, the same principles were applied in a
constructive manner with the cowpox virus

While smallpox parties are a thing of the past, similar parties for other
diseases for which vaccines were not yet available have been held in the 20th
century.  One specific example is for German measles, which when it occurs during
pregnancy can cause severe birth defects, so it was considered advisable by
some to deliberately expose girls to German measles before childbearing age.

The definition given in "Among the New Words" is "Gathering held so that
healthy children may contract chicken pox from infected children at a time
convenient for the parents" is not quite correct, or more exactly less than
all-inclusive.  A Google search turns about over a hundred sites, many of which state
that chickenpox parties are still being held in the 21st century by parents who
distrust the vaccine.


Laurence Horn (in his "sandal-mongering" article, page 36 of the same issue)
says that "tender love and care" is the original and correct version of the
phrase.  However, in my experience the phrase was always either "TLC" or "tender
loving care" (with a definite /ng/ rather than /n/ on the second word.)

              - James A. Landau

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