Despite doing a whole infographic on epidemiology etymology, I've never discussed the origin of the word herpes before. It was first used in Bartholomeus Anglicus' 1398 encyclopedia On the Order of Things, where it was capitalized and had pretty much the same definition as today. Anglicus took that directly from Latin herpes, which could refer to any kind of inflammatory skin problem, and the Romans borrowed their word from Greek herpein, meaning "creeping". That's also the source of the word herpetology, "the study of snakes", because the Greek word for "snake" literally meant "creeping thing". It's also the source of serpent, because the Greek h corresponds to the Latin s as it developed from the Proto-Indo-European s. That takes us to our final word, PIE serp, which meant "creep" or "crawl" as well.
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.