from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.

  • noun An infectious disease caused by a spirochete (Treponema pallidum),usually transmitted sexually or in utero, marked initially by local formation of chancres and progressing if untreated to bacteremia and widespread organ damage, such as skin ulcerations and tabes dorsalis.

from The Century Dictionary.

  • noun An infectious venereal disease of chronic course, communicated from person to person by actual contact with discharges containing the virus, or by heredity.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English.

  • noun (Med.) The pox, or venereal disease; a chronic, specific, infectious disease, usually communicated by sexual intercourse or by hereditary transmission, and occurring in three stages known as primary, secondary, and tertiary syphilis. See under primary, secondary, and tertiary.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.

  • noun pathology A disease spread via sexual activity, caused by the bacterium Treponema pallidum.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • noun a common venereal disease caused by the treponema pallidum spirochete; symptoms change through progressive stages; can be congenital (transmitted through the placenta)


from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

[New Latin, from Syphilis, sive Morbus Gallicus, “Syphilis, or the French Disease,” title of a poem by Girolamo Fracastoro (1478?–1553), from Syphilus, the poem's protagonist.]

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

Modern Latin, originally the title of a poem by Girolamo Fracastoro concerning "Syphilus", the supposed first sufferer of the disease.


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  • "Old Joe".

    May 7, 2008

  • I like how the English called it "the French pox," but the French called it "the English pox."

    Though it's not really funny.

    p.s. Reesetee, a candidate for your "Worse Than They Sound" list, perhaps?

    May 7, 2008

  • I dunno; I never thought this word was all that pretty, for some reason. Hmm.

    May 7, 2008

  • Oh, well, then don't add it.

    I wonder about the name Phyllis, actually. It sure does sound like syphilis, but some people find it pretty, I guess.

    May 7, 2008

  • Yes, but the same syllable isn't accented. Maybe that makes a difference?

    May 7, 2008

  • "Grandgore" just sounds so proud to be syphilis. :D

    July 10, 2008

  • Something about syphilis always sounded nice, apart from the actual meaning. Then someone mentioned it sounds like a Harry Potter spell and ruined it for me.

    July 24, 2008

  • You have GOT to be kidding....*hork*

    July 24, 2008

  • Spirochete sounds lovely too, though it certainly isn't...

    July 24, 2008

  • I agree with you on that one.

    July 29, 2008

  • "Syph and Clap (syphilis and gonorrhea) are two diseases that are easy to pick up. They come from balling. Anyone who claims they got it from sitting on a toilet seat must have a fondness for weird positions."

    - Abbie Hoffman, 'Steal This Book', 1971.

    February 18, 2009

  • Interesting historical conversation accidentally spawned on (of all words) Bilbao.

    ... wasn't Beethoven born with syphilis?

    April 6, 2009

  • WORD: syphilis


    A chronic infectious disease caused by a spirochete (Treponema pallidum), either transmitted by direct contact, usually in sexual intercourse, or passed from mother to child in utero, and progressing through three stages characterized respectively by local formation of chancres, ulcerous skin eruptions, and systemic infection leading to general paresis paralysis . The chancre is known as primary syphilis, the diseases of the skin and mucous membranes as secondary syphilis, and the later disorders (diseases of the bones, muscles, arteries, and viscera) as tertiary syphilis.

    For a very gruesome depiction of the effects of syphilis, see the 2004 film The Libertine, starring Johnny Depp as the syphilitic John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester, a notorious rake and libertine poet in the court of King Charles II of England.


    ' As for the suspicion I express in this book, that human beings are robots, are machines: It should be noted that people, mostly men, suffering from the last stages of syphilis, from locomotor ataxia, were common spectacles in downtown Indianapolis and in circus crowds when I was a boy.

    ' Those people were infested with carnivorous little corkscrews which could be seen only with a microscope. The victims' vertebrae were welded together after the corkscrews got through with the meat between. The syphilitics seemed tremendously dignified -- erect, eyes straight ahead.

    ' I saw one stand on a curb at the corner of Meridian and Washington Streets one time . . . The intersection was known locally as "The Crossroads of America".

    ' This syphilitic man was thinking hard there, at the Crossroads of America, about how to get his legs to step off the curb and carry him across Washington Street. He shuddered gently, as though he had a small motor which was idling inside. Here was his problem: his brains, where the instructions to his legs originated, were being eaten alive by corkscrews. The wires which had to carry the instructions weren't insulated anymore, or were eaten clear through. Switches along the way were welded open or shut.

    ' This man looked like an old, old man, although he might have been only thirty years old. He thought and thought. And then he kicked two times like a chorus girl.

    ' He certainly looked like a machine to me when I was a boy. '

    1973 KURT VONNEGUT, JR. Breakfast of Champions, or, Goodbye Blue Monday -- Preface (page 3).

    September 3, 2013