Syphilis first emerged in the 1490s during the French invasion of Italy. At that point, every country had named it after their enemies: the French called it the "Italian disease" and the Italians called it the "French disease", the Ottomans called it the "Christian disease", the Dutch called it the "Spanish disease", and the Russians called it the "Polish disease". The word syphilis itself was first coined forty years later in a poem by doctor Girolamo Fracastoro, who wrote about a shepherd named Syphilus who was sent by the gods to spread the illness. This quickly spread and became the most common name for it. We're not sure where Fracastoro got Syphilus from; it's thought to either be from Sipylus, a grandson of Tantalus in Roman mythology, or a Latinization of a greek word meaning "pig lover".
Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic, a senior 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.