WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Hum Durgeon

We’ve all probably done it.

Gone to the internet to diagnose a symptom, feeling, or injury … just to see why we felt a certain way, or if we needed to seek a medical professional. But what started out as curiosity about a scratchy throat or thorn-pricked finger quickly escalated into an armchair diagnosis of typhus or lockjaw, all with a few simple keystrokes.

The Gout by James Gillray, published by Hannah Humphrey 14 May 1799, National Portrait Gallery.

The Gout by James Gillray, published by Hannah Humphrey 14 May 1799, National Portrait Gallery.

Step away from the computer, take a fortifying breath, and thank dear Francis Grose that there’s a Regency slang term for our nonsense.

Taking Physick by James Gillray, published by Hannah Humphrey 6 February 1800, National Portrait Gallery.

Taking Physick by James Gillray, published by Hannah Humphrey 6 February 1800, National Portrait Gallery.

Hum Durgeon (noun)

An imaginary illness. He has got the hum durgeon, i.e. nothing ails him except low spirits.

Punch Cures the Gout, -the Colic, -and the 'Tisick' by James Gillray, published by Hannah Humphrey 13 July 1799, National Portrait Gallery.

Punch Cures the Gout, -the Colic, -and the ‘Tisick’ by James Gillray, published by Hannah Humphrey 13 July 1799, National Portrait Gallery.

Would it be possible to talk about Regency era hypochondria without mentioning the lady who defined the art of summonable malaise? Witness her creator’s own description:

She [Mrs. Bennet] was a woman of mean understanding, little information, and uncertain temper. When she was discontented she fancied herself nervous. The business of her life was to get her daughters married; its solace was visiting and news.
Chapter 1, Pride and Prejudice

 

Slang term taken from the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue.

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