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Driven by FearEpidemics and Isolation in San Francisco's House of Pestilence$
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Guenter B. Risse

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780252039843

Published to Illinois Scholarship Online: April 2017

DOI: 10.5406/illinois/9780252039843.001.0001

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Framing “Loathsome” Diseases

Framing “Loathsome” Diseases

(p.40) Chapter 2 Framing “Loathsome” Diseases
Driven by Fear

Guenter B. Risse

University of Illinois Press

This chapter examines the connotations of “loathsomeness” in characterizing disease. By the nineteenth century, the term was most frequently mentioned for the immediate separation and isolation of individuals, owing to perceptions of epidemics in so-called civilized European and North American countries as tragic and transformative while deemed natural and cyclical in poor Asian and African populations. The use of this code word was deliberate; readily institutionalized by the medical profession, it was part of an emotional vocabulary designed to instill aversion. Loathsomeness implied a broad range of revolting feelings, from a physical disgust to moral contempt, fear to outrage and repulsion, horror to odium. Primarily intended to identify acute ailments with hideous skin manifestations, the attribution was also linked to ethical infringements.

Keywords:   characterizing disease, loathsomeness, epidemics, emotional vocabulary, aversion, revolting feelings

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