In 1827, dengue fever was brought over to the West Indies by East African slaves. Needing a word for the disease, the Spanish colonists there adopted the term used by the slaves, ki denga pepo, and, through the influence of an obscure Spanish word meaning "prudery", dengue is what eventually stuck. Ki denga pepo is a phrase roughly translating to "seizure caused by an evil spirit" in Swahili; eventually, all of that traces to Proto-Niger-Congo. Before dengue was borrowed from Spanish merchants, other names for it included "dandy fever" (because it makes people walk like "dandies", or men who put high emphasis on personal grooming), "breakheart fever", "Philippine fever", "Thai fever", and "Singapore fever". However, by the late nineteenth century, dengue entirely took over in our vocabulary, peaking in usage in the late 1910s and early 1940s due to spates of World War-related outbreaks.
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.