- noun a serious infectious disease where a membrane forms in the throat passages of an animal such as in calf diphtheria
- noun a serious infectious disease of children, caused by the bacillus Corynebacterium diphtheriae, characterised by fever and the formation of a fibrous growth like a membrane in the throat which restricts breathing
Origin & History of “diphtheria”
The disease diphtheria is characterized by the formation of a false membrane in the throat which obstructs breathing, and when the French physician Pierre Bretonneau described it in the 1820s, he coined a name for it based on Greek diphthéra, which means ‘piece of leather’. Using the suffix -itis, denoting inflammation, he formed the modern Latin term diphtheritis (used in English until the 1850s) and its French equivalent diphthérit. He subsequently substituted diphthérie, and this was borrowed into and established in English in the late 1850s when an epidemic of the disease (then also termed Boulogne sore throat, from its first having been observed in Boulogne) struck Britain.