When I think of the noun anthrax, I associate it with the white powder infamously mailed to politicians after 9/11. However, when it was borrowed into the English language in 1398, it specifically referred to inflamed lesions of the skin (which are the primary symptom of the disease associated with the poison). Through Latin, the term comes from Ancient Greek anthrax, which had a secondary definition of "boil" but literally meant "coal" because anthrax lesions are characterized by dark coal-like tissues in their centers (this is also the etymon of the rock name anthracite). Ultimately, that has an unknown origin, possibly tracing to some pre-Greek language. Literary usage of anthrax peaked in 1926 and has trended downward since, although the twenty-first century has seen a resurgence in attestations of the word.
Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic, a rising junior studying government and linguistics at Harvard University, where I co-founded the Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Society. In addition to etymology, I also really enjoy trivia, politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, art history, and law.