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English Glossary of Causes of Death and other Archaic Medical Terms

The Vapors / Vapours

Typhoid Fever, Febricula, Little Fever. [Symptom, Nature, etc. of the Febricula or Little Fever, Manningham, 1746].

A name for hypochondriasis, spleen, or depression of spirits. [Thomas1875].

A popular term for hypochondriasis, or hysteria. [Tuke1892].

Archaic - 1. Exhalations within a bodily organ, especially the stomach, supposed to affect the mental or physical condition. 2. A nervous disorder such as depression or hysteria. [Heritage].


Chickenpox. An acute, specific, and infectious disease, occurring during infancy and early childhood, and characterized by an eruption that rapidly passes through the stage of papule, vesicle, and pustule, and terminates by desiccation, the entire period of this evolution not occupying more than from three to five days. There may be successive crops of the eruption. [Thomas1907]

Varicose Vein

A dilated tortuous vein, usually in the subcutaneous tissues of the leg, often associated with incompetency of the venous valves. [Dorland]


Surgical removal of varicose veins. [American Heritage].

Example from a 1932 Kansas death certificate:


A disease, now of somewhat less interest than before the discovery of vaccination. It is of very contagious nature, and is supposed to have been introduced into Europe from Asia, at an early period of he middle ages. It is characterized by fever, with pustules appearing from the third to fifth day, and suppurating from the eighth to the tenth, and it possesses all the distinctive properties of the major exanthemata. [Dunglison1868].

Smallpox. A very contagious disease characterized by synocha and an eruption of pustules on the third day, which suppurate about the eighth, and afterwards, drying, fall of in crusts. [Thomas1875].

A highly contagious viral disease characterized by fever and weakness and skin eruption with pustules that form scabs that slough off leaving scars. [Wordnet].

An acute, highly infectious, often fatal disease caused by a poxvirus and characterized by high fever and aches with subsequent widespread eruption of pimples that blister, produce pus, and form pockmarks. Also called smallpox. [American Heritage]

Example from an 1856 Death Certificate from England:

Variola Minor

A mild form of smallpox caused by a less virulent strain of the virus; of low mortality. [CancerWEB]


This is, really, small pox, modified by previous inoculation or vaccination; and hence it has been properly called modified small pox. It is, almost always, a milder disease than small pox; and this circumstance, with its shorter duration, exhibits the salutary effects of previous vaccination or inoculation. It has appeared epidemically. [Dunglison 1874]


An abnormally dilated or swollen vein, artery, or lymph vessel. [Heritage]

Venae Prostration

Total Collapse of the Veins. [Heritage]

Venereal Disease

See Sexually Transmitted Disease. A former classification of sexually transmitted diseases that included only gonorrhea, syphilis, chancroid, lymphogranuloma venereum, and granuloma inguinale. [Dorland]




Invertebrates including the flatworms, roundworms and annelid worms [MedlinePlus]

Verminous Fever

Fever, produced by the presence of worms in the digestive tube, or accompanied by their expulsion. [Dunglison1868]






An illusory sense that either the environment or one's own body is revolving; it may result from diseases of the inner ear or may be due to disturbances of the vestibular centers or pathways in the central nervous system. [Dorland]


The large purple spots which appear under the skin in certain malignant fevers. [Hooper1822]

Viper's Dance



A Latin word, which signifies poison; but which, in medicine, has a somewhat different acceptation. By it is understood a principle, unknown in its nature and inappreciable by the senses, which is the agent for the transmission of infectious diseases. Thus we speak of variolic, the vaccine, and the syphilitic viruses. Virus differs from venom in the latter being a secretion natural to certain animals, whilst the former is always the result of a morbid process, - a morbid poison. [Dunglison1868].

One of a group of minute infectious agents characterized by a lack of independent metabolism and by the ability to replicate only within living host cells. Like living organisms, they are able to reproduce with genetic continuity and the possibility of mutation. [Dorland]

Visceroptosis In "floating kidney" and "visceroptosis" the internal organs were thought to have dropped, necessitating treatment by the new art of abdominal surgery. [Ann Dally 1997]

Descent of the viscera from their normal positions. Also called splanchnoptosis. [Stedman]

Visitation of God From an article:   These considerations seem especially relevant to the final category of coroners’ inquests we have studied, those attributed to what juries regularly described as the Visitation of God (‘ex visitatione dei’). This categorization of death (one which was distinct in the jury verdicts from accidental death) seems to have been invoked when death arose inexplicably, or when it followed actions which were not regarded as being likely, under normal circumstances, to have resulted in a fatality. The exact cause of death is rarely noted in the Crown Books, and here too further investigation in the rolls is needed before any definite conclusions about this categorization can be reached. One case in which the cause of death was recorded, a case which demonstrates the occasional fluidity of definitions by coroners’ juries, comes from 1610, when it was noted that a man had died ‘de morbo gallico’, that is, of syphilis. The original verdict that he had died ‘per infortuna’ (by misfortune or accident) had been struck out, and ‘ex visitacone dei’ substituted. It is also noteworthy that around 1600 verdicts of death by divine visitation were regularly brought on prisoners who died in Chester gaol. [ESRC Violence in Early Modern England]

The description "died by the visitation of God" had been used at inquests in earlier times but was no longer acceptable. Compulsory registration of deaths had been introduced through the Births and Deaths Registration Act of 1836/7. Giving the cause of death was optional at first, but the trend towards accurate registration increased. In 1837 the Royal College of Physicians, the Royal College of Surgeons and the Society of Apothecaries circulated a joint paper that explained the need for accurate death certification and urged doctors to provide it. In 1859 a publication called The nomenclature of disease was drawn up by a committee appointed by the Royal College of Physicians. Thereafter it was frequently revised. When a medical practitioner gave a cause of death that was unacceptable, the Registrar-General communicated with him in an attempt to elicit a more accurate diagnosis." 1874 saw the passing of another Births and Deaths Registration Act. It now became compulsory to give the cause of death. The penalty for failure to give the required information was a fine of up to forty shillings. [Ann Dally 1997]

Listed in the 1909 Manual of the International Causes of Death 2nd Revision As: Cause of death not specified or ill defined. [MICD1909]

Example from an 1840 Death Certificate from England:

Volhynian Fever

Trench Fever


The iliac passion, or inflammation in the bowels, called twisting of the guts. [Hooper1829]

Ileus. [Dunglison1874]

Example from an 1858 Church Record in Münster, Switzerland:

Vomit, Vomiting

To eject (contents of the stomach) through the mouth.  [Dorland].

Example from a 1779 Death Record from England:


To eject (contents of the stomach) through the mouth.  [Dorland]


The yellow fever in its worst form, when it is usually attended with black vomit. [Webster1913].

Example from an 1869 death certificate from West Virginia:

Vulgo Dictu

Encephalitis, Sleeping sickness.