Word of the Day : August 7, 2011


noun KAL-un-chur


: a fever formerly supposed to affect sailors in the tropics

Did You Know?

In addition to being plagued by scurvy and homesickness, sailors of yore who dared the tropics also had calenture to worry about. Given a case of this fever they were likely to imagine that the sea was actually a green field and to leap into it. Our earliest evidence of the word in English is from the late 16th century. Such potent imagery destined the word for figurative use also, as in the Adam Bede quote above. "Calenture" has its origins in a Spanish word of the same meaning, "calentura," which itself traces to Latin "calēre," meaning "to be warm." Other words from "calēre" include "calorie," "cauldron," and "scald."


"The dairy was certainly worth looking at: it was a scene to sicken for with a sort of calenture in hot and dusty streets -- such coolness, such purity, such fresh fragrance of new-pressed cheese, of firm butter, of wooden vessels perpetually bathed in pure water. …" -- From George Eliot's novel Adam Bede, 1859

"I always associate [the restaurant chain] Little Chef with rollicking rides along provincial arterial roads, the kind of interminable drives during which one begins to appreciate the delusion known as calenture. Sailors, in the days before steam and out of sight of land for months, would sometimes begin to hallucinate and, seeing the waves as green fields, try and walk off across them." -- From an article by Will Self in New Statesman, November 15, 2010

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