Friday, May 18, 2018

Infectious diseases, Part 23: Syphilis (Sp. sífilis) and related diseases

[This entry comes from a section of Chapter 34, "Words about infectious diseases", of Part II of the open-source textbook Spanish-English Cognates: An Unconventional Introduction to Spanish Linguistics.]


The word syphilis [ˈsɪ.fə.ləs] and its Spanish cognate sífilis [ˈsi.fi.lis] are names for an infectious venereal disease (Sp. enfermedad venérea infecciosa). The name of the disease is derived from the name Syphilus of a character in a 16th century poem by Girolamo Fracastoro, a physician, astronomer, and poet from Verona (Republic of Venice). In the poem, written in 1530, Syphilus is a shepherd who was the first sufferer of the disease, a curse resulting from having offended the god Apollo. The poem, written in Latin, was titled Syphilis, sive morbus Gallicus, which means ‘Syphilis, or the French Disease’. Note that the title has Syphilis, not Syphilus, the shepherd’s name, for some unknown reason (more later on the French Disease part). Anyway, Girolamo Fracastoro gave the name syphilis to the disease in a famous treatise on contagious diseases that he wrote a few years later called De contagione et contagiosis morbis ‘On Contagion and Contagious Diseases’ (1546). Curiously, Fracastoro is also known as the first to propose a germ theory of disease, three centuries before it was formulated scientifically and proven empirically by French chemist Louis Pasteur and German physician Robert Koch.[1]

We do not know why Fracastoro chose the name Syphilus for the shepherd or syphilis for the disease. It is possible that the name was inspired by the name Sipylus of a character in one of Ovid’s works, the Metamorphoses (written in 8 CE), since that name is known to have been mis-spelled as Siphylus and Syphylus in some manuscripts of the work (note the spelling differences from Syphilus).

The name syphilis for the disease is not attested in English until 1718, two centuries later. In French, the word syphilis is not attested until 1808, though the adjective syphilitique ‘syphilitic’ is attested already in 1725. (English syphilitic is first attested almost 70 years after syphilis, in 1786.) In Spanish, sífilis first appears in Vicente Salvá’s Nuevo diccionario de la lengua castellana in 1846 and in the DRAE in 1884.[2] As in the case of the French language, the adjective sifilítico is attested in Spanish earlier in the 19th century, decades before the first attestation of the name sífilis for the disease.

It was estimated that in 2012, half of one percent of the world’s adults were infected, with several million new cases happening every year. When an infected woman is pregnant, this results in spontaneous abortions, stillbirths, or congenital syphilis in the newborn baby. In 2010, syphilis was responsible for some 113,000 deaths, down from 202,000 in 1990. In the US six times more men than women are affected and half of all cases are in African Americans.

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease caused by the bacterium Treponema pallidum of the genus Treponema, which scientists have not figured out how to cultivate yet and is difficult to study. The New Latin word Treponema was coined in the early 20th century from  Greek τρέπειν (trépein) ‘to turn’ and νῆμᾰ (nêma) ‘that which is spun (thread, yarn, etc.)’. It is a spiral-shaped bacterium of the Spirochaetaceae family.[3] This disease is caused by one of the three (or perhaps four) subspecies of this bacterium, namely Treponema pallidum pallidum. First we are going to talk about syphilis before turning to the diseases caused by the other subspecies.

There are up to three stages to the syphilis disease: primary, secondary, latent, and tertiary. The first stage (primary syphilis) starts usually after three weeks of exposure, but it can be anywhere from 10 days to 10 weeks. The first symptom is usually a single painless sore called a chancre [ˈʃæŋ.kəɹ], Sp. chancro [ˈʧaŋ.kɾo], ‘a painless ulcer, particularly one developing on the genitals in venereal disease’ (COED). These words come from French chancre, which comes from Lat. cancer. This chancre gets larger and often breaks, leaving an ulcer, but eventually it disappears after 3-6 weeks, leaving no scar.

The second stage (secondary syphilis) happens in about half of the people inflected. It starts typically 4-8 weeks after the appearance of the chancre and the most common symptom is a skin rash, especially on the palms of the hands and the bottoms of the feet. These symptoms also go away by themselves without treatment, though they may return. The second stage may last up to several months, until the symptoms disappear, again leaving no scars.

Then, the disease goes into latent period, which can last only a few months or forever. However about a quarter of those infected reach the last stage (tertiary syphilis), which for about half the symptoms are benign but for the other half is either incapacitating or fatal. At this stage, the bacteria attach different parts of the body, including heart, arteries, eyes, brain, nervous system, bones, liver, and joints. In the benign cases, the main symptom is ulcerated skin lesions that are not infectious and which are called gummas (Sp. goma), from Lat. gumma, ‘a tumor of gummy or rubbery consistency that is characteristic of the tertiary stage of syphilis’ (MWC).

The infection gets passed on through direct contact with a first-stage syphilis sore on the external genitals, vagina, anus, or lips during vaginal, anal, and oral sex. For centuries, various treatments were used for this disease, such as mercury, potassium iodide (1836), and Salvarsan (1909). It wasn’t until the antibiotic penicillin (Sp. penicilina) was discovered in 1928 by Scottish scientist Alexander Fleming and found to be effective for syphilis in 1943, that an effective and easy cure was finally found. Penicillin is still the drug of choice to treat the disease, during any of its four stages. Other antibiotics can be used as well for those who are allergic to penicillin.

Syphilis appeared in Europe at the end of the 15th century and the prevailing theory is that it was brought to this continent from the Americas by Columbus’s men. There are other theories, such as that there was syphilis in Europe already before Columbus’s trip but that it was confused with leprosy (Sp. lepra). However, the American source theory is most likely the true one. Be it as it may, the disease became notorious and well known in Europe when there was a major outbreak in 1494-5 in Naples, Italy, during a French Army invasion and the soldiers later spread the disease throughout Europe. The source of the disease may have been Spanish mercenaries serving the French king. Interestingly, the disease was much more lethal then than it is today, leading to certain death in a matter of months, unlike today.

Between this time and when the name syphilis became standard, the disease went by a variety of names that referred to the source of the disease in a neighboring country from which the disease was thought to have come from. Thus, in France it was mostly known as the Neapolitan disease. In Italy, Germany, Spain, and Great Britain, however, it was known as the French disease. But in the Low Countries, Portugal and North Africa, they called it the Spanish disease. In Russia is was the Polish disease and in Poland, the German disease. The Spanish name was el mal francés ‘the French disease’ or, using fancier synonyms, el morbo gálico ‘the Gallic sickness’.

Let us return now to the other human diseases caused by bacteria of the genus Treponema, which are nonvenereal infections that are spread by body contact. At least two of them are caused by subspecies of the species Treponema pallidum, namely Treponema pallidum endemicum, which causes bejel, and Treponema pallidum pertenue, which causes the contagious skin disease known as yaws. Both of these diseases affect the skin, but can go deeper and affect bone and internal organs. The third one is either another subspecies or a closely related species, Treponema carateum, and the disease it causes is known as pinta in both English and Spanish, among other names.

The first disease is known most commonly as bejel, in both English and Spanish, pronounced [ˈbɛ.ʤəɫ] or [ˈbeɪ̯.ʤəɫ] in English and [be.ˈxel] in Spanish. In English, it is also known as (nonvenereal) endemic syphilis and in Spanish as sífilis endémica or, more technically, treponematosis endémica no venérea. This disease is found primarily in arid regions of the eastern Mediterranean, the Middle East (Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iraq), the Saharan region of North Africa, and even southwest Asia. Thus, it is perhaps no surprise that the name bejel comes from Arabic, specifically Iraqi Arabic. The term bejel came into English and Spanish in the 1920s. This disease is contracted in childhood, showing typically as a minor lesions in the mouth that may go unnoticed and may go away by themselves. Later on, there may appear papular lesions of the trunk and extremities, periostitis of the leg bones, and gummatous lesions of the nose and soft palate (Sp. gomoso/a; cf. gumma above).[4]

The second, close cousin of syphilis is the disease known primarily as yaws in English, pronounced [ˈjɔz] or [ˈjɑz]. Other names that have been used in different contexts for the disease are frambœsia, Frambesia tropica, thymosis, polypapilloma tropicum, parangi, and bouba. The main Spanish name for this disease is pian, but other names, such as frambesia, have also been used at different times and in different contexts. This disease is found in equatorial regions, particularly in rural regions of Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Americas.

The name yaws is of uncertain origin, though it has been suggested that it comes from the extinct Carib language, in particular from the word yaya that means ‘sore’. The Spanish name pian is from a Tupian language spoken by the Tupi people (Sp. tupí) of South America. There are about 70 languages in the Tupi or Tupian language family, of which the best known is Guarani, a major language of Paraguay. As for the other names for the disease, the cognates Eng. frambœsia or frambesia [fɹæm.ˈbi.zɪ.ə] ~ Sp. frambesia, this is a Modern Latin word derived from French framboise ‘raspberry’ (cf. Sp. frambuesa). The reason for this name are the raspberry-like excrescences caused by this disease.

Yaws seems to have been around the longest of all these diseases. There is evidence from Homo erectus bones that yaws has been around for at least 1.6 million years. A later mutation from this bacterium was the source to the subspecies that causes bejel, and an even later mutation was the source that gave origin to syphilis.

Initially, yaws produces lesions that may break open and form ulcers. They go away after 3-6 months but then the bacterium begins to attack joints and bones. A second stage of the disease, which occurs months or even years later, results in various types of skin lesions. In about one tenth of those untreated, a tertiary stage may occur years later which results in bone, joint and soft tissue destruction that result in physical deformities.

Finally, there is another disease that is caused by what may be a different species, which has been termed Treponema carateum, though it is definitely related and perhaps also from the same species Treponema pallidum as syphilis, yaws, and bejel. The fact is that this bacterium and those that cause bejel and yaws are morphologically and serologically indistinguishable from Treponema pallidum pallidum that causes syphilis. This other disease, however, is merely a skin disease, which does not attack internal structures. The disease is known as pinta in both English and Spanish and it is endemic in the Caribbean and in Central and South America. It causes red, scaly lesions on the skin and it is transmitted by direct skin-to-skin contact through cuts and scratches.

Figure 144: Disfiguration from bejel or endemic syphilis.[i]

The name pinta comes from the Spanish adjective pinto/a that means ‘spotted’. It is a patrimonial word that comes from Vulgar Latin pĭnctus (fem. pĭncta) that means primarily ‘painted’, since it is the passive participle of the Vulgar Latin verb *pĭnctare ‘to paint, etc.’, source of Sp. pintar and Eng. paint. (The Classical Latin version of the verb was pingĕre, passive participle pictus, from which comes the derived noun pictūura, source of Eng. picture, cf. Sp. pintura ‘painting’.) Other names for this disease in Spanish are enfermedad azul ‘blue sickness’, carate (perhaps from Quechua or another South American indigenous language), empeines,[5] and mal del pinto. [6] English has also borrowed some of these Spanish names for the disease at different times, such as carate, a word that is present in at least one major English dictionary, namely Webster’s New Third International Unabridged Dictionary.



[1] According to the germ theory, diseases are caused by microorganisms. There was another precursor of this theory, namely the Roman scholar Marcus Varro in the first century BCE, but Fracastoro’s theory about the nature of contagion, infection, germs, and modes of disease transmission was much more developed. Although his theory was praised at the time it appeared, it was not tested and proved for three more centuries.

[2] Vicente Salvá was an excellent lexicographer who improved and fixed many of the errors in the Academy’s 1837 edition of its dictionary in his 1846 dictionary. Unfortunately, the Academy did not take Salvá’s improvements into account until much later.

[3] Another genus of the Spirochaetaceae family are the spirochete (spirochaete in British English), pronounced [ˈspaɪ̯.ɹǝ.kit] or [ˈspaɪ̯.ɹoʊ̯.kit]. The technical, Modern Latin term for this bacterium genus of the Spirochaetaceae family is Spirochæta (Sp. espiroqueta). Some English dictionaries seem to confuse the two terms and say that Treponema bacteria are from the genus Spirochæta, but they actually form their own genus.

[4] A papule, Sp. pápula, is ‘a small, solid, usually inflammatory elevation of the skin that does not contain pus’ (AHD). The word comes from Lat. păpŭla ‘pustule, pimple’.

The term periostitis refers to Inflammation of the periosteum (Sp. periosteo), ‘the dense fibrous membrane covering the surface of bones except at the joints and serving as an attachment for muscles and tendons’ (AHD).

[5] The word empeines or empeine is primarily the name for a skin disease, namely impetigo (see §34.3.39). The word comes from Vulgar Latin ĭmpedīgĭnem (nominative: ĭmpedīgo), from Lat. ĭmpetīgĭnem (nominative: ĭmpetīgo), ‘a scabby eruption on the skin, impetigo’. Note that there two other words empeine in Spanish, namely the one that means ‘groin’ and the one that means ‘instep (or foot or shoe)’. These last two words are derived from Lat. pĕcten (accusative pĕctĭnem), which primarily meant ‘comb’, but was also used to refer to pubic hair, the pubic bone (sharebone), and from there, perhaps also came to refer to the instep bone.

[6] The Spanish word pinto has also been borrowed into English for other things. In North America, the word can refer to a ‘a piebald horse’ (COED), that is, ‘a horse with patchy markings of white and another color’ (AHD), equivalent to mottled or pied. It is also used to describe a type of bean, ‘a speckled variety of kidney bean’ (COED). This latter use of the word only exists in the collocation pinto bean.



[i] Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Infiltration_of_skin_due_to_endemic_syphilis.jpg; public domain. Original caption: Disfiguring infiltration of the nose, glabella, and forehead with clustered nodules in left interciliary region of boy with endemic syphilis, Iran, 2010. (2018.05.18)


Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Infectious diseases, Part 22: Streptococcal infections

[This entry comes from a section of Chapter 34, "Words about infectious diseases", of Part II of the open-source textbook Spanish-English Cognates: An Unconventional Introduction to Spanish Linguistics.]

As we saw earlier in the chapter, bacteria have traditionally been classified according to their shape (Sp. forma), that is their morphology (Sp. morfología). The two main types are round bacteria and long bacteria, though there are other minor types, such as spiral-shaped, called spirillum (Sp. espirilo), or tightly coiled, spirochaetes (Sp. espiroquetas). Round bacteria are known as cocci (sing. coccus, Sp. coco), from Gk. κόκκος (kókkos) ‘grain, seed’, whereas long bacteria are known as bacilli (sing. bacillus [bə.ˈsɪ.l.əs], Sp. bacilo), from Lat. bacillus, which meant ‘little staff, wand’ and was a diminutive of Latin baculum or baculus ‘walking stick, staff’. As you can see, the names of types of bacteria in English tend to be identical to their New Latin name, whereas Spanish tends to adapt the name to Spanish phonology and orthography (cf. Part I, Chapters 8 and 10).

We have already come across a type of coccus bacterium, namely the staphylococcus (Sp. estafilococo), which causes diseases such as MRSA and staph infections, with pus formation. These bacteria occur in grapelike clusters, hence their name, which comes Greek σταφυλή (staphulḗ) ‘bunch of grapes’. Another type of coccus bacteria is known as streptococcus [ˌstʰɹɛp.tə.ˈkʰɒ.kəs] (Sp. estreptococo), ‘a round to ovoid, gram-positive, often pathogenic’ genus ‘that occurs in pairs or chains’. Many species from this genus ‘destroy red blood cells and cause various diseases in humans, including erysipelas, scarlet fever, and strep throat’ (AHD). The name streptococcus (1877) means something like ‘twisted spherical bacterium’. It is a New Latin name formed from Greek στρεπτός (streptós) ‘twisted’, from the verb στρέφειν (stréphein) ‘to twist’, and the same κόκκος (kókkos) we just saw.

There are more than 50 species of bacteria in the Streptococcus genus, after many that had been classified as Streptococcus were moved to the new genera Enterococcus and Lactococcus. Many species are non-pathogenic, but others are responsible for infections such as streptococcal pharyngitis (strep throat; Sp. faringitis estreptocócica or amigdalitis estreptocócica), many cases of pinkeye (also known as conjunctivitis; Sp. conjuntivitis), meningitis (Sp. meningitis), bacterial pneumonia (Sp. neumonía bacteriana), endocarditis (Sp. endocarditis), erysipelas (Sp. erisipela), and necrotizing fasciitis, ‘flesh-eating’ bacterial infections (see below). It is important to realize that many people who are carriers of the harmful bacteria of this genus are asymptomatic. One may have them in the skin or elsewhere and not show any symptoms.

There are different ways of classifying species of the Streptococcus genus. One common classification method is based on serotypes (Sp. serotipos), that is, one based on antigenic differences in polysaccharides that are located in the bacteria’s cell walls. The Streptococcus serotypes can be divided into more than 20 serologic groups, which are designated by letters: A, B, C, etc.

Streptococcal diseases are classified according to the bacterium group that causes the infection, so they are also designated by letters. The major types of infections are caused by group A and group B Streptococcus bacteria, which is why the two main types of infections are called Group A Streptococcal Infections, also known by the acronym GAS (Sp. estreptococo del grupo A or SGA) and Group B Streptococcal Infections (GBS) (Sp. estreptococo del grupo B or SGB).

Figure 143: Streptococcus pyogenes bacteria.[i]

GAS infections are caused predominantly by Streptococcus pyogenes (Sp. estreptococo beta-hemolítico del grupo A or just estreptococo del grupo A). The main infections are the following:

·   pharyngitis [ˌfæɹ.ɪn.ˈʤ̯.ɾɪs] (Sp. faringitis [fa.ɾiŋ.ˈxi.t̪is]), also known as strep throat in English (see above): it results in inflammation of the pharynx (Sp. faringe), which is ‘the tube that goes from the back of your mouth to the place where the tube divides for food and air’ (DOCE); cf. New Latin (17th century) pharynx, from Ancient Greek φάρυγξ (phárunx) ‘throat’; GAS is the most common bacterial cause of acute pharyngitis: 15-30% of children and 5-10% of adult cases.

·   impetigo [ˌɪm.pɪ.ˈtʰ̯.ɡ̯] (Sp. impetigo [im.ˈpe.t̪i.ɣo]): ‘an acute contagious staphylococcal or streptococcal skin disease characterized by vesicles, pustules, and yellowish crusts’ (MWC); the name comes straight from Lat. impĕtīgo (gen.: impĕtīginis), the Latin name for the disease, which was derived from the verb impĕtĕre ‘to rush upon, assail, attack’; cf. Eng. impetus ~ Sp. ímpetu ‘the force or energy with which a body moves; a driving force’ (COED); impĕtĕre is derived from pĕtĕre ‘ask, beg, request; to seek, aim at, desire’, the source of Sp. pedir ‘ to ask for’; interestingly, impĕtĕre is not related to Eng. impede ~ Sp. impedir (cf. Chapter 25, §25.3.3).

·   pneumonia [nʊ.ˈmoʊ̯.njə] or [nju.ˈmoʊ̯.ni.ə] (Sp. neumonía [neu̯.mo.ˈni.a]):  ‘an acute or chronic disease marked by inflammation of the lungs and caused by viruses, bacteria, or other microorganisms and sometimes by physical and chemical irritants’ (AHD); this comes from the New Latin or Medical Latin term pneumonia ‘inflammation of the lungs’; it comes from Ancient Greek πνευµονία ‘lung disease’, a word derived from πνεύµων (pneúmōn; the regular stem and combining form was πνευµον‑) or πλεύμων (pleúmōn) ‘lung’, plus the suffix ‑ία (-ía), which was added to certain word stems to form feminine abstract nouns.[1]

·   necrotizing fasciitis (Sp. fascitis necrotizante): this is ‘an acute disease in which inflammation of the fasciae of muscles or other organs results in rapid destruction of overlying tissues’ (COED); cf. Eng. necrotize [ˈnɛ.kʰɹ̯.tʰ̯z] and Sp. necrosar(se) ‘to undergo necrosis or cause to necrose’ (AHD), cf. the synonymous English verb necrose ‘to undergo or cause to undergo necrosis’ (AHD); cf. necrosis (Sp. necrosis) ‘death of cells or tissues through injury or disease, especially in a localized area of the body’ (AHD), from Late Latin necrōsis ‘a killing, a causing to die’, from Greek νέκρωσις (nékrōsis) ‘a putting to death, a state of death, mortification’, related to the verb νεκροῦν (nekroun) to kill, mortify’, and to the word νεκρός (nekrós) which as an adjective meant ‘dead’ and as a noun ‘dead body, corpse’; the adjective Eng. necrotic ~ Sp. necrótico/a or necrósico/a has been derived in the modern languages from this New Latin noun.

·    cellulitis [ˌsel.jʊ.ˈlaɪ̯.ɾɪs] (Sp. celulitis [θe.lu.ˈli.t̪is]): ‘inflammation of subcutaneous connective tissue’ (COED); the word was created in 1843 from Latin cellula ‘little chamber’, diminutive of cella ‘storeroom, chamber’, and the suffix ‑itis that means ‘inflammation’ in Medical Latin; cf. patrimonial Sp. celda ‘punishment cell’ and learned célula ‘cell (in biology)’; Eng. cell [ˈsɛɫ] comes from Old French celle


·   streptococcal bacteremia (Sp. bacteriemia estreptococal): bacteremia refers to ‘the presence of bacteria in the blood’; from the root bacteri‑ and the ending ‑emia (or ‑aemia) ‘condition of the blood’, the New Latin combining form of the Ancient Greek word αἷμα (haîma) ‘blood’

·   osteomyelitis (Sp. osteomielitis): ‘a usually bacterial infection of bone and bone marrow in which the resulting inflammation can lead to a reduction of blood supply to the bone’ (AHD); this is a New Latin word formed from Ancient Greek ὀστέον (ostéon) ‘bone’, Ancient Greek μυελός (muelós) ‘marrow’, and the New Latin suffix ‑itis that denotes diseases characterized by inflammation, typically by an infection (from Ancient Greek ‑ῖτις (‑îtis) ‘pertaining to’)

·   otitis media (Sp. otitis media): ‘inflammation of the middle ear, occurring commonly in children as a result of infection and often causing pain and temporary hearing loss’ (AHD); otitis is a late 18th century New Latin word from Greek ὠτ‑ (ōt-), the regular stem of οὖς (oûs) ‘ear’, plus the New (Medical) Latin suffix ‑itis (see above); Greek ος (oûs, ‘ear’ is a cognate of Lat. auris ‘ear’, from an earlier unattested *ausis, and of Old English ēare (English ear) (Sp. oreja ‘ear’ comes from Lat. aurĭcŭla, a diminutive of Lat. auris)

·   sinusitis (Sp. sinusitis): ‘inflammation of the sinuses or a sinus, especially in the nasal region’ (AHD); this is a New Latin word derived from Lat. sinus ‘a hollow, cavity; curve; bosom; etc.’ (cf. patrimonial Sp. seno ‘breast, bosom; womb; cavity, hollow, hole; heart, core; sine (in math)’)

·   meningitis (Sp. meningitis): ‘inflammation of the meninges of the brain and the spinal cord, most often caused by a bacterial or viral infection and characterized by fever, vomiting, intense headache, and stiff neck’ (AHD); this disease may have different causes, cf. §34.3.27 above

Another life-threatening illness in which GAS is involved, by means of the toxins the bacteria produces, is Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS), which is often fatal (Sp. síndrome del choque tóxico). TSS can also be caused by toxins from Staphylococcus aureus (see §34.3.38). The streptococcal toxic shock syndrome (STSS) is sometimes referred to as toxic shock-like syndrome (TSLS).

The other major type of streptococcal infections are Group B infections, caused by Group B Streptococcus (GBS). These are bacteria found normally in the intestines (gastrointestinal tract), the vagina, and the rectal area. The main infection causing bacterium in this group is Streptococcus agalactiae. The main infections this group causes are postpartum infection and neonatal sepsis. Infections are rare, however, and are almost always associated with underlying abnormalities. In older people, it is associated with congestive heart failure in bedridden patients. Symptoms of GBS infection are:

·    pneumonia (see above)

·   meningitis (see above)

·   bacteremia (see above)

·   skin and soft-tissue infection (SSTI), also known as skin and skin structure infection (SSSI), or acute bacterial skin and skin structure infection (ABSSSI)) (Sp. infección de la piel y de tejidos blandos); they include simple abscesses (Sp. abceso), impetiginous lesions (‘of, relating to, or like impetigo’, WNTIU, see above), furuncles (boils; Sp. furúnculo, divieso), and cellulitis (Sp. celulitis, see above), or more complicated infected ulcers, burns, and major abscesses.

·   pressure ulcers (pressure sores, pressure injuries, bedsores, or decubitus ulcers) (Sp. escara, úlcera de decúbito): ‘an ulceration of the skin and subcutaneous tissue caused by poor circulation due to prolonged pressure on body parts, esp. bony protuberances, occurring in bedridden or immobile patients’ (RHW); the most common name in English for this condition is bedsore [ˈbɛd.ˌsɔɹ] and in Spanish, escara, which is a learned loanword from Lat. eschăra ‘scar, scab’, from Gk. ἐσχάρα (eskhara) ‘earth, brazier; scab caused by a burn, scab’ (Sp. asqueroso ‘disgusting’ seems to come from Vulgar Latin *escharosus ‘full of scabs’ (cf. Lat. Vulgar *ascara, *scara), and the nun asco ‘disgust’ seems to be a back-formation from this adjective, though the fact that it is asco and not ásquero might have been by the influence of an earlier word for this meaning, namely usgo, which was derived from an unattested verbo *osgar ‘to hate’, from a Vulgar Latin *osicare, derived from Lat. ōdisse ‘to hate, detest, dislike’ (cf. Corominas)

·   colonization of diabetic foot infections (Sp. colonización de infections de pie diabético): the term diabetic foot (Sp. pie diabético) refers to a number of pathologies in the foot resulting from diabetes mellitus [daɪ̯.ə.ˈbi.ɾiz mə.ˈlɪ.ɾəs] (Sp. diabetes mellitus) or its complications, such as infection, diabetic foot ulcer, or neuropathic osteoarthropathy; diabetes is ‘a disorder of the metabolism causing excessive thirst and the production of large amounts of urine’ (COED); the name for this disease, Eng. diabetes [ˌdaɪ̯.ə.ˈbi.ɾiz] ~ Sp. diabetes [di̯a.ˈβe.t̪es], is a New Latin word that comes from the διαβήτης (diabḗtēs) ‘passing through’, a participle of the verb διαβαίνω (diabaínō) ‘to pass through’

·   osteomyelitis (Sp. osteomielitis): ‘a usually bacterial infection of bone and bone marrow in which the resulting inflammation can lead to a reduction of blood supply to the bone’ (AHD); such an infection ‘may result in the death of bone tissue’ (MWC); the name of this disease is a New Latin word derived from Ancient Greek ὀστέον (ostéon; root: osté‑) ’bone’, Ancient Greek μυελός (muelós; root muel‑) ‘marrow’ and the adjective-forming suffix -ῖτις (-îtis) which in medicine has come to be used to mean ‘inflammation’.

·   arthritisɹ.ˈθɹ̯.ɾɪs] (Sp. artritis): ‘inflammation of a joint, usually accompanied by pain, swelling, and stiffness, and resulting from infection, trauma, degenerative changes, metabolic disturbances, or other causes. It occurs in various forms, such as bacterial arthritis, osteoarthritis, or rheumatoid arthritis’ (AHD); the word arthritis is a New Latin word derived from ἄρθρον (árthron) ‘a joint’ and the New Latin suffix ‑itis that means ‘inflammation’

·   discitis or diskitis (Sp. discitis, disquitis): an infection and inflammation of the intervertebral disks cartilage disks separating the spine’s vertebrae; the term is derived from the English word disk or disc (the latter is a Latinate British spelling variant of this word) or its Spanish cognate disco and the suffix ‑itis that in medical language stands for ‘inflammation’; discitis can be caused by viral or bacterial infections as well as by an autoimmune disorder

·   chorioamnionitis or intra-amniotic infection (IAI) (Sp. corioamnionitis, infección intraamniótica, infección ovular, or amnionitis): infection and inflammation of the fetal membranes (inner amnion and outer chorion) and the amniotic fluid; it may happen during vaginal examinations in the last month of pregnancy or during (prolonged) labor. The word chorioamnionitis is a New Latin one derived from the Greek words. The term amnion [ˈæm.nɪ.ən] (Sp. amnios) is the name of ‘the innermost membrane that encloses the embryo of a mammal, bird, or reptile’ (COED); it comes from Lat. amnion ‘membrane around a fetus’, which comes from Gk. ἀμνίον (amnion) ‘bowl in which the blood of victims was caught’. The term chorion ['kɔ.ɹɪ.ǝn] (Sp. corion) refers to ‘the outermost membrane surrounding the embryo of a reptile, bird, or mammal’ (COED) and it comes from Ancient Gk. χόριον (khórion) ‘membrane surrounding the fetus, afterbirth’.

·   endometritis [ˌɛn.doʊ̯.mɪ.ˈtʰɹtraɪ̯.ɾɪs] (Sp. endometritis): inflammation of the endometrium, the inner lining of the uterus, typically caused by bacterial infection; the term endometritis is obviously derived from the term endometrium and the suffix ‑itis. The term endometrium (Sp. endometrio) is a New Latin medical term for the mucous membrane lining the uterus (womb) of mammals. It is formed from the Latin prefix endo‑ ‘inner’ and the Late Latin word for ‘womb’ metrium, which was a loan from Ancient Greek adjective μήτριον (mḗtrion) ‘of a mother’, derived from the noun μήτηρ (mḗtēr) ‘mother’.

·   urinary tract infections (UTI) (Sp. infección urinaria): ‘infection of any part of the urinary tract, esp. the urethra or bladder, usually caused by a bacterium… and often precipitated by increased sexual activity, vaginitis, enlargement of the prostate, or stress’ (RHWU). Many types of bacteria can cause UTIs, including GBS, though most typically it is caused by Escherichia coli.



[1] The original word for ‘lung’ was πλεύμων (pleúmōn), with an λ (l). The variant πνεύµων (pneúmōn) with an ν (n) is thought to have arisen by influence of the verb πνεν (pnéin) ‘to blow’ and the derived noun πνεμα (pneûma) ‘breath’ (cf. Eng. pneumatic ‘containing or operated by air or gas under pressure’, COED; Sp. neumático ‘pneumatic; tire’). Gk. πλεύμων (pleúmōn) is a cognate of Lat. pulmo (pulmōn‑) ‘lung’, source of Sp. pulmón ‘lung’ (cf. Eng. pulmonary).



[i] Photo Credit: Content Providers(s): - This media comes from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Public Health Image Library (PHIL), with identification number #2110. Public domain: https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1164643 (2018.05.14)

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Infectious diseases, Part 21: Staph Food Poisoning

[This entry comes from a section of Chapter 34, "Words about infectious diseases", of Part II of the open-source textbook Spanish-English Cognates: An Unconventional Introduction to Spanish Linguistics.]

As we saw when we discussed MRSA, Staphylococcus (Sp. estafilococo) is a genus of bacteria that colonize the skin, mucous membranes, and upper respiratory tracts of mammals and birds including, of course, humans. Most of the 40 species of this genus are harmless, but a few of them cause infections and some strands of those species have developed ways to counteract the body’s defense mechanisms and the antibiotics medicine has created to deal with them.

Staphylococcus aureus (Sp. estafilococo dorado), which we discussed in the section on MRSA, is the most dangerous of all the Staphylococcus species, responsible for most Staphylococcus infections, also known as staph infections, such as skin infections, pneumonia, food poisoning, toxic shock syndrome, and blood poisoning (bacteremia). Many healthy adults carry this bacterium in their biomes without adverse effects, however: 20% of us have it in in the skin and 30% in the nose. However, in certain contexts and under a weakened immune system, this bacteria is responsible for many different types of infections around the body, including localized skin infections, such as ear infections; diffuse skin infection, such as cellulitis; deep, localized infections, such as septic arthritis, and so on.

In addition, Staphylococcus aureus excretes substances that are toxic to the body, that is, toxins (Sp. toxinas). The New Latin noun toxin [ˈtɒk.sɪn] (Sp. toxina [t̪ok.ˈsi.na]) was created in 1886 from the stem tox‑ of the adjective toxic and the Latinate suffix ‑in. The adjective toxic (Sp. tóxico/a) comes from an actual Latin word, Late Latin toxĭcus ‘poisoned’, derived from the Latin noun toxĭcum ‘poison’, a loanword from Greek τοξικόν (toxikón) ‘poison for arrows’, from τοξικός (toxikós) ‘pertaining to bows’, from τόξον (tóxon) ‘bow’.

The main toxin produced by the S. aureus bacterium is known as Staphylococcal enterotoxin B (SEB) or enterotoxin type B (Sp. enterotoxina estafilocócica B). This is the main toxin associated with food poisoning in humans. An enterotoxin is ‘a toxin produced in or affecting the intestines’ (COED). The word enterotoxin is New Latin word created in the 1930’s from Ancient Greek ἔντερον (énteron) ‘intestine’ and the word toxin. Food poisoning by SEB is known as Staphylococcal Food Poisoning or Staph Food Poisoning for short (Sp. intoxicación alimentaria por estafilococo dorado).

If one ingests a toxin such as SEB, that is, if one ingests food contaminated with it, it results in food poisoning, a form of gastrointestinal illness. The toxins can come from the skin, coughing, or sneezing of food handlers. The bacteria rapidly can grows rapidly at room temperature and excrete enterotoxins, especially in certain food products, such as cream, mayonnaise, meats, and dairy, which may not be easily detectable by smell or spoiled appearance, for instance. Staph bacteria are easily killed by cooking, but not so the toxins that they produce.

Those affected by food poisoning may experience vomiting, nausea, stomach cramps, and diarrhea. The illness is not contagious typically does not last more than one day, though it depends on the dose. SEB can also non-menstrual toxic shock syndrome (TSS) in women (Sp. síndrome del choque tóxico no menstrual). This toxin has been considered for biological warfare since it is stable and can be easily aerosolized (sprayed) and since ‘it can cause systemic damage, multiorgan system failure, and even shock and death when inhaled at very high dosages’.[i]

As we have seen the equivalent of Eng. food poisoning in Spanish is intoxicación alimentaria. This points to a difference in meaning between the cognates Eng. intoxication [ɪn.ˌtɒk.sɪ.ˈkeɪ̯.ʃən] and Sp. intoxicación [in.t̪ok.si.ka.θi̯on], which are obviously derived from the cognate adjectives Eng. toxic ~ Sp. tóxico/a that we saw earlier. More specifically, these nouns are related to and derived from the cognate verbs Eng. intoxicate ~ Sp. intoxicar. They are loanwords from Medieval Latin intoxĭcāre, derived from the Latin adjective toxĭcus (fem. toxĭca), derived from the noun toxĭcum ‘poison in which arrows were dipped’, a loanword from Ancient Greek τοξικόν (toxikón) (see above).

The Classical Latin verb derived from this noun was toxĭcāre ‘to smear or anoint with poison’, but in Medieval Latin the prefix in‑ was added to this verb and from the verb, the noun intoxĭcātĭōnem (nominative intoxĭcātĭo) ‘poisoning’, was derived from the verb’s past participle stem. English and Spanish borrowed both the verb and the noun from Latin. In English, the verb intoxicate (borrowed from the passive participle form of the verb, intoxĭcātus) is attested by the middle of the 15th century and the noun intoxication is attested half a century later. The words show up in French at around the same time, so it is not clear if French had an influence on the appearance of the English words or, less likely, the other way round.[1] Spanish intoxicar and intoxicación are attested a little bit later, by the beginning of the 16th century.

The meaning of the English and Spanish verbs was originally ‘to poison’ and of the nouns ‘poisoning’, just like in the Medieval Latin source words. However, a change in the meaning of the English words rendered these cognates less than perfect friends. More specifically, by the late 16th century, the English verb intoxicate was being used with the meaning ‘to make drunk’ and by the mid-17th century we find the noun intoxication with the meaning ‘drunkenness’. Thus, in Modern English, the ‘poison’ meaning is archaic according to some dictionaries (e.g. COED) or obsolete according to others (e.g. OED). The main sense of Eng. intoxicate in English is, according to the OED, ‘to stupefy, render unconscious or delirious, to madden or deprive of the ordinary use of the senses or reason, with a drug or alcoholic liquor; to inebriate, make drunk’. More common than the verb is the adjective intoxicated derived (in English) from the verb’s past participle, equivalent to Sp. ebrio/a, borracho/a, embriagado/a.

Thus, English uses the noun poisoning in the context of food, not intoxication like Spanish and French do.[2] The noun poisoning [ˈpʰɔɪ̯z.ə.nɪŋ], derived from the verb to poison [ˈpʰɔɪ̯z.ən], means ‘illness caused by swallowing, touching, or breathing in a poisonous substance’ (DOCE). This verb, which appears in English around the year 1300, is derived, in English, from the noun poison, already attested a hundred years earlier. This noun was a loan from patrimonial Old French poison or puison (Modern French poison [pwa.ˈzɔ̃]), which meant ‘a drink’, in particular ‘a medical drink’, which by the 14th century also came to mean ‘(magic) potion, poisonous drink’. This word came from Lat. potĭōnem (nominative potĭo) ‘a drink’, but also in some contexts ‘a poisonous drink’. The noun is derived from potāre ‘to drink’ (cf. Eng. potable ~ Sp. potable ‘fit to drink’).

Obviously, the word potion [ˈpʰ̯ʃ.ən] in English is a doublet of the word poison, one that came directly from Latin, not through French. The Spanish cognate is poción, also a learned loanword from Latin, which is a good friend of Eng. potion, since they both mean ‘a liquid with healing, magical, or poisonous properties’ (COED). Spanish does have a patrimonial version of this word, and thus a doublet of poción, namely ponzoña (also attested as pozoña in Old Spanish), which is archaic in many dialects of Spanish. Its meaning is very similar to that of Eng. poison.[3]

However, the most common word for ‘poison’ in Spanish is veneno, which is a cognate of Eng. venom. These two words are partial friends since they share the sense ‘poison from an animal’, that is, ‘poisonous fluid secreted by animals such as snakes and scorpions and typically injected into prey or aggressors by biting or stinging’ (COED). However, Sp. veneno also has the sense ‘poison from chemicals or plants’. In other words, Sp. veneno is the generic term for ‘poison’ or ‘toxic substance’. These words come from Lat. vĕnēnum ‘potion, juice, drug’, in particular ‘a potion that destroys life, poison, venom (cf. toxicum)’ and ‘a magical potion, charm’ (L&S).[4] The more common form of the word in Old Spanish was venino. When English borrowed venom [ˈvɛn.əm] from Old French in the mid-13th century, it was spelled venim, since it came from Old French venim. All of this points to the existence of a Vulgar Latin version vĕnīnum of Classical Latin vĕnēnum from which the patrimonial French and Spanish words descend. This would mean that Spanish veneno is a semi-patrimonial word, namely a patrimonial descendant of a Latin word, but one whose form was altered at some point to make it look more like the original Classical Latin word.

This noun veneno eventually replaced ponzoña in most dialects for most purposes after the 16th century. Related to this noun is the adjective venenoso/a ‘poisonous’ (earlier veninoso/a) and the verb envenenar ‘to poison’ (earlier enveninar and aveninar). Cognates of Sp. veneno in other Romance languages include French venin, Galician veleno, Italian veleno, Sicilian vilenu, Occitan veren or verin, and Catalan veri.



[1] The noun intoxication is attested in French by 1408 (Modern French pronunciation [ɛ̃.tɔk.si.ka.ˈsjɔ̃]). The related verb entosiquier by the middle of the century (Modern French intoxiquer [ɛ̃.tɔk.si.ˈke]).

[2] The Spanish term intoxicación alimentaria, the equivalent of Eng. food poisoning, would seem to be a calque of Fr. intoxication alimentaire.

[3] The intrusive ‑n‑ in ponzoña is usually explained by the influence of the verb ponzoñar or emponzoñar ‘to poison’, which contain the intrusive n. These verbs are derived from Vulgar Latin *potioniare, in which the nasal consonant ‑n‑ presumably propagated itself to the preceding syllable, a rare sound change but one that is attested in other Old Spanish words as well.

[4] The word vĕnēnum descends from the Proto-Indo-European root *wenh₁‑ ‘to strive, wish, love’. Other Latin words that contain this PIE root are Vĕnus ‘Venus’, vĕnĭa ‘complaisance, indulgence, kindness, mercy, grace, favor’ (cf. Sp. venia ‘consent, permission, etc.’), vēnārī ‘hunt, chase, pursue’ (cf. Sp. venado ‘dear; venison’), venerārī ‘worship, adore, revere, venerate’ (cf. Sp. venerar ~ Eng. venerate). The English word wish also descends from a word that contained the same root (cf. Proto-Germanic *wunskijaną ‘to wish’).

Infectious diseases, Part 23: Syphilis (Sp. sífilis) and related diseases

[This entry comes from a section of Chapter 34, "Words about infectious diseases", of Part II of the open-source textbook Spanish-...