syph·​i·​lis | \ ˈsi-f(ə-)ləs How to pronounce syphilis (audio) \

Definition of syphilis

: a chronic contagious usually venereal and often congenital disease caused by a spirochete (Treponema pallidum) and if left untreated producing chancres, rashes, and systemic lesions in a clinical course with three stages continued over many years — compare primary syphilis, secondary syphilis, tertiary syphilis

Other Words from syphilis

syphilitic \ ˌsi-​fə-​ˈli-​tik How to pronounce syphilis (audio) \ adjective or noun

Examples of syphilis in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web When mothers who have syphilis are treated with penicillin while pregnant, babies are often born without a trace of the disease. Caroline Chen, ProPublica, 16 Nov. 2021 Between 1932 and 1972, scientific researchers refrained from treating Black men with syphilis, many of whom were sharecroppers, to observe the progression of their symptoms. Caroline Tien, San Antonio Express-News, 28 Oct. 2021 Chief among them is the infamous Tuskegee study, conducted from 1932 to 1972, where government researchers withheld treatment for syphilis in Black men in a rural Alabama town. Drake Bentley, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 7 June 2021 Infections such as syphilis in pregnant women, which can lead babies to die shortly after birth, have often gone untreated during the pandemic, said Mr. Otsuka. Luciana Magalhaes, WSJ, 27 May 2021 The Tuskegee Syphilis Study, conducted by federal health authorities between 1932 and 1972, sought to study untreated syphilis in 400 Black sharecroppers from Alabama. Lois K. Solomon,, 11 Mar. 2021 In 1932, the Public Health Service, working with the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, started a treatment program for syphilis in African-American men. Calvin Watkins, Dallas News, 3 Feb. 2021 It was designed to study untreated syphilis in hundreds of Black men without their consent. Stephanie Elam, CNN, 11 Dec. 2020 Over the course of 40 years, the study revealed the progress and extent of the disease, but only at the expense of some 128 lives, as well as the health of the spouses who were infected and the children who were born with congenital syphilis. Brandy Schillace, WSJ, 5 Aug. 2021

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'syphilis.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of syphilis

1653, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for syphilis

New Latin, from Syphilus, hero of the poem Syphilis sive Morbus Gallicus (Syphilis or the French disease) (1530) by Girolamo Fracastoro †1553 Italian poet and physician

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The first known use of syphilis was in 1653

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Last Updated

2 Dec 2021

Cite this Entry

“Syphilis.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 3 Dec. 2021.

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English Language Learners Definition of syphilis

: a very serious disease that is spread through sexual intercourse


syph·​i·​lis | \ ˈsif-(ə-)ləs How to pronounce syphilis (audio) \

Medical Definition of syphilis

: a chronic contagious usually venereal and often congenital disease that is caused by a spirochete of the genus Treponema (T. pallidum) and if left untreated produces chancres, rashes, and systemic lesions in a clinical course with three stages continued over many years

called also lues

— see primary syphilis, secondary syphilis, tertiary syphilis

More from Merriam-Webster on syphilis

Nglish: Translation of syphilis for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of syphilis for Arabic Speakers Encyclopedia article about syphilis


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