Wednesday, June 15, 2016

SearchResearch Challenge (6/15/16): What was that word again? Effective searching with old terms

One of the greatest problems with the past... 

... is that the language they spoke then is different than what we speak (or write, or blog).  

As a consequence, when you're trying to search for historical content, you sometimes (often?) have to shift your language to accommodate the way authors in the past would have written.  

For instance, when I was young, I grew up learning about a dinosaur called the brontosaurus.  The way these things go, the name was more-or-less rescinded, and then brought back a few years later when a newer, finer distinction was made between the brontosaurus and the apatosaurus. If you're curious, you can go read that article to hear the whole story about the name changes (and why they keep changing the name back and forth-it's an interesting story). 

The named, un-named, and restored (with a different skull) brontosaurus.

But the reason I bring it up here is that terms can change significantly over time.  I've written about this before (Search for terms from long ago), and we're revisiting this idea with a couple of new Challenges.  In the earlier post I gave a bunch of examples of terms that have shifted with time:  Boers -> Afrikaners; insane -> mentally ill; outdoor relief -> public welfare; etc.  

This terminological shift (a great phrase to use at your next party!) showed up a bit in my own research recently.  Can you figure out how to answer these Challenges?  

And, more generally, can you come up with a general way to help answer questions like this?  

1.  While reading about the US Civil War, I had read in one source that many of the soldiers died from some kind of disease that had extensive diarrhea.  Yet, when I search in writings from that time, I find lots of diarrhea, but I seem to be missing many of the references.  What other term(s) SHOULD I be using to search in archival accounts from that period for this disease?  

2.  These days, it's popular to go to a spa that features natural hot springs, such as those at Wiesbaden (Germany) or Bath (UK).  But if I'm searching for such a spa to visit in 1890's America, what search terms should I use? 

3.  While reading about optics and the life of John Dollond (the inventor of the achromatic lens, for which you should be grateful), I learned that he died of a stroke.  But I can't find period accounts with that search term.  What search term should I use instead to find an 18th century death by stroke? 

This can be a little tricky... so when you give us your answer, be sure to tell us HOW you determined what the time-period appropriate term(s) should be!  Did you just know off the top of your head, or what resources did you use to get this insider information?  

Search on! 


  1. 1. Dysentery. I really just guessed because I had heard the term before. The following sites confirmed it. I Googled Civil War dysentery.

    2. Medicinal Springs. Again I guessed because I have been to Berkeley Spring, West Virginia.

    3. Apoplexy. I looked in Wikipedia under Stroke and History. This term came up so I searched Google and found a scholarly article confirming it.

    An interesting search that took about 45 minutes.

  2. 1. FMOK the word is flux, could be cholera; dysentery though is #1 killer found by [american civil war diseases flux, dysentery cholera]

    2. Springs; ie Saratoga Springs, Warm Springs, Hot Springs, Palm Springs. Wiki under Spa

    3. FMOK 'struck down by the hand of god' and 'a visitation of god', apoplexy, my 1891 gggrandfather died of 'congestion of the brain'. 3 weeks earlier he asked his Dr why he felt so giddy? Dr said Oh its nothing. 3 weeks later he was dead of a stroke which was likely caused his fluttering heart valves and creating clots that then blocked arteries to his brain.. jontU

  3. 1. If you search 'diarrhea synonyms' you find 'flux' in the list, and can confirm it is the period-appropriate one by searching 'civil war flux', and get this result - "The Language of the Civil War":

  4. I found that I could get some good results by using the following queries:

    define "civil war diarrhea"

    define "spa 19th century america"

    define "19th century medical term for death by stroke"

    which provided the results such as

    1] dysentery

    2] mineral springs

    3] apoplexy

  5. My answer: Part 1/2

    I thought I knew the answers off the top of my head (disclaimer: my mother is a retired medical doctor, my sister has a PhD in History of Medicine, I’m the stray member of the family who likes to answer challenges on the Internet) but what got me interested was the generic search for "can you come up with a general way to help answer questions like this?"

    In the end (surprisingly fast, in fact!) I found a wonderful tool I didn't know of, "The Historical Thesaurus of English" from the University of Glasgow (HTE). Together with the Google [ * synonyms ] feature, this seemed to be the answer for all questions of this type. As I soon found out, it's not that simple though. For example, for the question
    3. 18th century term for death by stroke
    I knew off hand that three very often used terms at least from the 19th century on were apoplexy, infarct / infarction, and thrombosis (or rather in fact their Portuguese equivalents "apoplexia", "infarto / enfarte" and "trombose"; I am just assuming that these medical terms are quite universal). Although neither of these means "death by stroke" (apoplexy was used as we now use the stroke itself; infarction and thrombosis are its possible causes), one of these terms would probably be associated with deaths by stroke, so they would be good search terms.

    If you look for [ apoplexy ] on HTE, here's what you get:

    Disorders of nervous system :: disorders of brain :: apoplexy
    poplesy/poplexy c1386–a1585
    apoplexy c1386–
    apoplex 1533–1790
    sudden disease/stroke a1548–1651
    catarrh 1579 + 1708–1721/1800 Dict.
    strong apoplexy 1820

    Apoplex and catarrh surprised me. All words have links to their entries in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), but unfortunately you won't be able to see them without a subscription.

    Searching [ apoplexy,apoplex,catarrh,stroke ] from 1700 to 1900 on Google Books Ngram Viewer (NgrV) gives a clear impression that apoplexy was already in very much use in the 18th century. (On the other hand, because the word "stroke" has so many other uses, it's much higher on the graphic than any of the others. A curious spike of "stroke" appears in the 1740s but I haven't researched why.)

    The same procedure for infarction produces this on HTE:

    Disorders of internal organs :: obstruction
    oppilation c1400–
    obstruction 1533–
    stoppage 1575–
    clausure 1585
    obstipation 1597–
    infarction 1689–
    congestion 1803–
    engorgement 1866–
    infarct 1873–

    Many of these are connected to other kinds of infarction unrelated to the cerebral infarction we're looking for. But it's now clear that "infarct" has only appeared in the 19th century (which can be confirmed on NgrV).

    You may want to combine these tools with Wikipedia's articles on these subjects.

    In the meantime, the synonyms found through the Google Search [ define stroke ] add two more terms that might prove useful, namely "embolism" and "ictus":

    5. a sudden disabling attack or loss of consciousness caused by an interruption in the flow of blood to the brain, especially through thrombosis. […]
    synonyms: thrombosis, embolism, cerebral vascular accident, CVA, cerebral haemorrhage, ictus, seizure; archaic apoplexy

    If you look now for embolism and ictus on HTE, you get yet some other words (and also, you will realize that embolism and ictus are recent words, so of no use for our purpose):

    Convulsive/paralytic disorders :: fit/stroke
    taking 1533–1639 OED
    conceit 1568–1622 OED
    striking 1599(2) OED
    stroke of God's hand 1599 OED
    fit 1621–

    (to be continued in part 2)

  6. My answer: Part 2/2

    So here's the combined Google Search I could do after all this:

    [ "John Dollond" "fit" | apoplexy | infarction | conceit | "striking" | thormbosis death | dead | died ]

    It turns out that most of these (infarction, conceit, "striking", thrombosis) don’t give any relevant result, so "fit" and apoplexy are all we needed after all.

    Weirdly, if you restrict the date to Before 1800 on Google Books, the search wonn't match any books. But there's plenty of references from the early 19th century, like for example:

    Monthly Magazine, Or, British Register
    The late Peter Dollond, was the eldest son of John Dollond, inventor of the Achromatic ... for, In the year 1711, hedied of an apoplectic fit, leaving a wido«, a son, and three daughters, ... in 1804 by the premature death of tbe younger brother.

    The Cyclopædia: Or, Universal Dictionary of Arts, Sciences, and ...
    Abraham Rees - 1819 - ‎Read - ‎More editions
    ... he was seized with apoplexy, which immediately deprived him of speech, and occasioned his death a few hours afterwards. ... Mr. John Dollond, being since dead, the survivor, Mr. Peter Dollond, already mentioned, who is well known as a ...

    So how did I arrive to The Historical Thesaurus of English (HTE)?
    The Historical Thesaurus of English, version 4.2. 2016. Glasgow: University of Glasgow.

    [ use of synonyms through time ] led me to:

    Competition of synonyms through time: Conceptual and social ...
    by AS da Silva - ‎2015 - ‎Related articles
    Competition of synonyms through time: Conceptual and social salience factors ... Linguistics as a meaning-oriented and usage-based approach to language.

    The reading of this paper led me to search [ diachronic synonymy ], which led me to:

    by GA KLEPARSKI - ‎Cited by 7 - ‎Related articles
    neglected phenomenon of diachronic synonymy which – in our belief – can hardly be ... Synonymy and the Onomasiological Perspective in the Study of.

    The reading of this led me search [ "diachronic thesaurus" ] and [ “historical thesaurus” ], which led me to HTE.
    The latter search led me also to HTOED, the Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary, available only for subscribers. And to a very interesting book, Current Methods in Historical Semantics, which I am now browsing instead of answering the other questions on this week’s Search Research challenge. ��

  7. gets you to Wikipedia, "obsolete medical terms." In that chart, "List of deprecated terms for diseases" brings you to "apoplexy" for "stroke," and "grippe" for "influenza."

    When I ran across the phrase "what is now called a stroke," I found that that search term yields several references. Perhaps in future searches for earlier terminology, it would be useful to use that phrase, or one like it (in quotes) and end it with whatever the modern word is-- "what is now called . . . ," "what is now named . . . ," "was once known as . . . ."

    brings you, which includes this information: "From the stench of putrefying flesh wafting through unsanitary and crowded camps to the unglamorous illnesses of syphilis and dysentery, our modern disgust toward Civil War medical practices is generally justified."
    Perhaps the diarrhea was caused by both dysentery and flu (grippe).

  8. From context, I imagine that FMOK (I hadn't run across it before) is a useful acronym meaning "From my own knowledge." To confirm, I googled it--and found it means: Full Moon Over Killaloe.

  9. Good day, Dr. Russell and everyone.

    For Q1

    [etymology diarrhea]

    Respelled 16c. from diarria on Latin model.

    [Civil War] 1861 to 1865

    [old name for diarrhea]


    [diarrhea name 1800..1865]

    For Q2

    [spa ancient name]... Google told me that people also ask:

    Where did the term spa come from?
    Wikipedia also suggests that 'The term is derived from the name of the town of Spa, Belgium, whose name is known back to Roman times, when the location was called Aquae Spadanae, sometimes incorrectly connected to the Latin word “spargere” meaning to scatter, sprinkle or moisten.

    A brief history of spa therapy

    Spas in colonial America

    [Saratoga springs 1800s]

    Hippocrates, the “father of medicine,” first recognized stroke more than 2,400 years ago. He called the condition apoplexy, which is a Greek term that stands for “struck down by violence."...Centuries later, in the 1600s, a doctor named Jacob Wepfer discovered that something disrupted the blood supply in the brains of people who died from apoplexy. In some of these cases, there was massive bleeding into the brain. In others, the arteries were blocked...The first documented carotid artery surgery in the United States was in 1807. Dr. Amos Twitchell performed the surgery in New Hampshire.... "

    The term stroke did not appear in the English literature until 1599


    1. While reading about the US Civil War, I had read in one source that many of the soldiers died from some kind of disease that had extensive diarrhea. Yet, when I search in writings from that time, I find lots of diarrhea, but I seem to be missing many of the references. What other term(s) SHOULD I be using to search in archival accounts from that period for this disease?
    A. Diarrhoea, Cholera, Camp Fever (Typhus), Dysentery

    2. These days, it's popular to go to a spa that features natural hot springs, such as those at Wiesbaden (Germany) or Bath (UK). But if I'm searching for such a spa to visit in 1890's America, what search terms should I use?
    A: Hot/cold springs, Balnea,“Thermal waters","taking the waters"

    3. While reading about optics and the life of John Dollond (the inventor of the achromatic lens, for which you should be grateful), I learned that he died of a stroke. But I can't find period accounts with that search term. What search term should I use instead to find an 18th century death by stroke?
    A: Apoplexy

  10. I used the search terms as follows-
    1. "define diarrhea"
    2. "define spa" and
    3. "brain stroke" (using "define stroke" did not work as it showed me results for the verb stroke)
    Then in the results I looked for archaic terms or origin of these terms. I found the following answers-
    1. Diarrhea was spelled as Diarrhoea, also called dysentery, bad bowel, cholera and found an archaic term cacatoria (
    2. This one was a little harder. I found the words mineral springs, wash-houses (which leads to results about laundry), bath-houses (which are mostly gay clubs now). The search that lead me to the history was ["mineral springs" historical america]. Saratoga springs was one of the first bath houses in the US (1815) before which time, bathing was still a taboo!(Wikipedia)
    3. This was the easiest and the most interesting. Search terms [brain stroke] followed by [brain stroke old name] lead me to apoplexy (literally the second search result). Next I searched [John Dollond apoplexy] which gave me old results from around 1819. Even older ones were available from the late 1700s but they were French.
    I found this book Dictionary of National Biography, Volume 15 edited by Sir Leslie Stephen ( which had an account of John Dollond's death by apoplexy.

  11. A general way to find things relating to a term is to use a glossary, like this one for medical terminology. It wasn't til about 1900 that medicine came to be similar to today's knowledge. They really were ignorant before that time. Here is a good glossary of medical terms--and he is looking for input with old terminology too. jon

    1. This is another way to skin this particular cat. I should have mentioned the "find an era-appropriate glossary" approach! Nice.

    2. May I assume from the lack of comment on "my" historical thesauri that:
      a) you didn't read the entirety of my long two comments so you missed it
      b) it's not that much of a good method
      c) I am just being an attention trollop and this reply to jon applies to me as well? B-)

    3. I saw it, and I assume that everyone else read it as well! It's an incredibly valuable resource that I didn't know about before. So it's a great find. We'll have to come up with an interesting Challenge that uses this. (For instance, I searched for "kith," as used in the phrase "kith and kin" and discovered that "kith" comes-from "cyþþ" (those funny characters are "thorns"). I didn't know that thorns could appear side-by-side like that.)

      Bottom line.. it's SO interesting that we'll do a Challenge in the future that uses this (and maybe another interesting language resource).

      Check out:

    4. Thanks for the answer. I'm glad it's not option b)

      Attention hamaguri pleased. :)

  12. This question was rather better suited to my background knowledge than last week!
    I started with question 3 as reading of Victorian novels makes me pretty sure that a stroke was referred to as apoplexy there.

    [define apoplexy]

    Yes – it was a historic term for stroke.

    [define diarrhea]

    Under synonyms, it says archaic – the flux

    A search for
    [us civil war diseases flux] leads to
    which says
    “DIARRHEA [acute or chronic, the flux, the quickstep] “

    [us civil war diseases quickstep]
    which leads to -

    which states “The most prevalent disease, however, was diarrhea.  It was commonly called “the runs,” the “Virginia quick step,” the “Tennessee trots,” or simply the “bowel complaint.”  It is reported that 75% of the soldiers suffered from this problem. “

    So any search for archaic terms would have to contain -
    the flux
    the runs
    quick step or quickstep
    bowel complaint

    I can confirm that “the runs”and “the trots” are still used in the UK as euphemisms.

    The Spa question proves more difficult.
    I try
    [define spa]
    [define bath]
    [define springs] – all without helping much.

    Try [old name for spas]

    Bathing in 19th- and 20th-century America – commonly called springs in US as compared to spa in UK.
    [springs usa 1890s], then [hot springs usa 1890s medicinal]

    Google Books has Mineral Springs Resorts in Global Perspective: Spa Histories
    Try [mineral springs usa 1890s]

    Nothing overly helpful, so try ["american springs" usa 1890s]

    This leads to a magazine called Spa Management

    which has an interesting article from page 22 called “A walk through American Spa History” and has lots of possible terms including the change towards the use of sanitarium in the 1890s and the Kellogg family.

    Have a good week.