While lots of old slang words for STDs are still in use today, many have fallen out of favor and for good reason; they weren't exactly what anyone would call PC. For instance, names for syphilis through the centuries reflected ethnic, religious, and political rivalries. Other terms were less bigoted, but still packed enough description to elicit a cringe. Even so, there were STD euphemisms that sounded benign. In fact, if someone wasn't aware of the context, they might believe that the speakers were talking about a common cold... they weren't.
Above all, slang for STDs paints an interesting history. It reveals society's attitudes towards sexual health and shows how far treatment has come. So why not brush up on some of the great euphemisms of yore?
Gonorrhea. The origin of "the clap" is debatable, but some believe it comes from the word "clapier," which means "brothel" in Middle French. Other theories include "clappan" (the old English word for throb) and the "clapping" of the member that was used as a treatment. Ouch!
The Gift That Keeps On Giving
Herpes. It was given this nickname because the disease is chronic and cannot be cured.
Crabs. It's said that under a microscope, public lice look like little crabs. But crickets are a close second.
Gonorrhea comes from the Greek word gonos (sperm) and rhea (flow). Considering that one of the symptoms is a discharge, "the drip" is an accurate (and icky) description.
Seven Year Itch
Scabies' epidemic cycle would rise and fall in roughly seven years. Plus it itches like nobody's business.
STDs. Because it takes a village to raise infectious disease.
A term for venereal disease. Hard to catch one if you're not social.
This was the Italian nickname for syphilis.
Social hygiene referred to the control of venereal disease. The movement started in the late 19th century and became the basis for health education in schools.
The Great Pox
A common name for syphilis was the pox, which could be easily confused with smallpox. The great pox served as a way to clear up any ambiguity.
Syphilis. Sailors under Columbus brought this back to Spain.
The Great Imitator
Syphilis. Its symptoms "imitate" other venereal diseases, so it was often misdiagnosed.
A general term for STDs. Privates don't get roughed up if you wrap them up.
Syphilis. French soldiers brought syphilis back home after they besieged Naples in the 15th century.
The Turks used this as a slang term for syphilis.
This was the name of the disease that subjects of the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment were treated for.
Named after the chancre sores that are a symptom of syphilis.
The Portuguese named syphilis after their rivals in Spain.
A 17th-century name for gonorrhea. "Barnwell" stood for brothel district, and "ague" meant fever.
The Great Mimic
Lesions of syphilis were often mistaken for scabies, leprosy, and skin cancer. Hence, it was called the great mimic.
A derogatory term for syphilis once used by the Polish.
Syphilis. Tahitians believed that the disease came from England.
Doctors once used this in place of saying syphilis.
The name the Japanese gave to syphilis.
The Russian off-color nickname for syphilis.