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Medical Glossary

Glossary of Medical Terms from Isham's Confessions

 

compiled by Michelle DiMeo and Rebecca Laroche

 

 

Ague

 

severe fever, characterised by shaking, shivering and sweating

 

 

Almon[d]s in the throat

 

tonsils

 

 

Almond Milk

 

medical preparation made from sweet blanched almonds and water

 

 

Bitonie (Betony)

 

a herb renowned for diverse medical benefits

 

 

Blething (Bleeding)

 

a 'fit of bleeding' refers to inordinate menstruation

 

 

Blood-letting

 

Galenic doctrine used to correct an imbalance in the humours by releasing accumulations of a particular humour. There are various theories as to when, where, and how blood-letting should occur

 

 

Borage

 

a medicinal herb, used to comfort the heart and stimulate happiness

 

 

Coffe (Cough) of the Lungs

 

see Consumption

 

 

Coldness of stomach

 

possibly a form of indigestion, as the herbs used to cure this ailment were the same as those used to aid digestion

 

 

Consumtion (consumption, or tuberculosis)

 

most common symptoms affect the lungs, including coughing and difficulty in breathing

 

 

Cordial

 

a restorative medicine

 

 

Decoction

 

a compound made from a medical substance (which may be derived from plants, animals or minerals) which is boiled in a liquor until the substance dissolves in it

 

 

Elecampan (Elecampane)

 

a medicinal herb used as a tonic and stimulant

 

 

Fit

 

a sudden attack of a recurring illness

 

 

Flux

 

an abnormal amount of flowing of a substance

 

 

Foal-foot (also known as Colts-foot, or Horse-foot)

 

a herb, used as a cough suppressant

 

 

Gargarism

 

a medical wash that should be gargled, not swallowed

 

 

Gelop (Julep)

 

a sweet drink, sometimes medicinal itself and sometimes used to facilitate medical treatment

 

 

Glister a medicine injected into the anus to empty bowels; a suppository

 

 

Greene Sickness

 

an anaemic disease that produces a pale or 'green' tint to the complexion, which usually occurs in young women at the age of puberty

 

 

Griping

 

contractions in the bowels

 

 

Humours

 

medical belief that the body is comprised of four elements in nature, each of which has a corresponding bodily fluid. Imbalances can affect temperament and cause illness. The four humours are as follows: 1) Fire / Hot and Dry / Yellow Bile / Choleric; 2) Air / Hot and Moist / Blood / Sanguine; 3) Earth / Cold and Dry / Black Bile / Melancholic; 4) Water / Cold and Moist / Phlegm / Phlegmatic

 

 

Lax

 

a laxative medicine, used to incite bowel movements

 

 

Margerome (Marjoram)

 

medicinal herb

 

 

Melancholy

 

combination of mental and physical ailments, including sadness, introversion, thinness and paleness. It was thought to have been caused by an excess of black bile (the melancholic humour), or astrological influences such as being born under the planet Saturn

 

 

Mistiness of the eyes

 

a dimness or haziness of eyesight

 

 

Orring Pilles (Orange Peels)

 

an ingredient used in many medical preparations, usually dried and beaten, or infused in water

 

 

Palsie (Palsy)

 

paralysis of part of the body, often with shaking

 

 

Pilles

 

a drug mixed with an inactive substance which was rolled into a small spherical shape and should be swallowed by mouth; similar to modern solid tablets that are taken as oral medication

 

 

Physic

 

medicine, or a medical substance

 

 

Plaster

 

an adhesive liquid or solid which is either spread onto a bandage or directly onto the skin, at which point it solidifies and protects a wound; a precursor to modern plasters, or Band-Aids

 

 

Posit (Posset)

 

a medicinal drink, made from hot milk curdled with liquor and flavoured with herbs and spices

 

 

Potion

 

a liquid taken orally; though sometimes in reference to magical liquids, the term was also used for medicinal liquid compounds, as it is used here

 

 

Purpels (Purples)

 

purple spots, may occur on their own or as result of plague

 

 

Root

 

the parts of a plant that grow below the ground

 

 

Rume (Rheum)

 

mucous

 

 

Salve

 

an ointment used to treat wounds

 

 

Sasafrus (Sassafras)

 

tree commonly called 'Ague Tree', since it was used to treat the ague. It grew in Spain, France, and North America, and its roots and bark were used for medicine

 

 

Saturday

 

in astrological theories, Saturday was governed by Saturn, the cold and dry planet sometimes called "The Star of Melancholy". It could shape a melancholic temperament in a person born under its influence

 

 

The Sickness

 

refers to the plague, an epidemic disease primarily found in densely populated zones spread by rodents, primarily rats. England suffered from a succession of plagues from the 15th through 17th centuries, ending with the great plague of London in 1665

 

 

Spelne (Spleen)

 

the herb spleenwort, meant to alleviate problems of the spleen, which is the locus of melancholy (see Melancholy)

 

 

Strong water

 

any alcoholic beverage

 

 

Swallowes

 

probably an oil made from the herb swallowwort, which purportedly relieved cramps; though possibly an oil made from live swallows

 

 

Swownd

 

to swoon, or to faint; as in a fainting fit

 

 

Syrup

 

a thick sweet liquid; many recipes ask for syrup to be mixed with another ingredient (e.g. roses or almonds) to produce an oral medicine

 

 

Vomits

 

a medicine used to stimulate vomiting, thought to cleanse the body of impurities

 

 

Wind collick

 

severe cramping in the bowels

 

 

Womans travell (travail)

 

labour pains

 

 

 

 

Bibliography

 

 

Gerard, John. The Herbal, or General History of Plants, London, 1663

 

 

McGrew, Roderick E. and Margaret P. McGrew, Encyclopedia of Medical

 

History, London: Macmillan, 1985

 

 

Oxford English Dictionary. www.oed.com