Why do they call it chicken pox?

A STAFF REPORT FROM THE STRAIGHT DOPE SCIENCE ADVISORY BOARD

Dear Straight Dope:

Why do they call it chicken pox? I realize the that the pox comes from the syphilis-like symptoms, but where does the chicken come into the equation?

Jill replies:

It is surprising how many physicians and others who are knowledgeable about childhood diseases don’t know the answer to this question. Here’s an answer from www.medicinenet.com, which has a pretty good medical dictionary:

“Chickenpox (varicella): A highly infectious viral disease, chickenpox is known medically (and in many countries) as varicella. Chickenpox has nothing to do with chicken. The name was meant to distinguish this “weak” form of the pox from smallpox (chicken being used, as in chickenhearted, to mean weak or timid). The “pox” of chickenpox is no major matter unless infected (through scratching) or occurring in an immunodeficient person.”

Okay, but then shouldn’t smallpox be called “Big Frigging Pox” or something instead?

Send questions to Cecil via cecil@straightdope.com.

STAFF REPORTS ARE WRITTEN BY THE STRAIGHT DOPE SCIENCE ADVISORY BOARD, CECIL'S ONLINE AUXILIARY. THOUGH THE SDSAB DOES ITS BEST, THESE COLUMNS ARE EDITED BY ED ZOTTI, NOT CECIL, SO ACCURACYWISE YOU'D BETTER KEEP YOUR FINGERS CROSSED.

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