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?
SDStaff Jillgat 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?
SDStaff Jillgat, Straight Dope Science Advisory Board
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