Humorous disease names

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU
Sat Jun 7 14:33:44 UTC 2008

On Sat, Jun 7, 2008 at 9:19 AM, Jim Parish <jparish at> wrote:
> (Returning to the subject of James Herriot, I recall one of his clients
> referring to "smilin' Harry syphilis"; if I recall correctly, this was a
> misinterpretation of "swine erysipelas", but I don't have the books
> anymore.)

There's a lot of (mostly apocryphal) medical malapropisms/eggcorns out there:

sick as hell anemia -> sickle cell anemia
spinal meningitis -> smilin' mighty Jesus
Alzheimer's disease -> old timer's disease
phenobarbital -> peanut butter balls

--Ben Zimmer

The American Dialect Society -

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