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From French diphtérie (later for a while also spelled diphthérie) in 1857, which was coined in 1855 with the suffix -ie to replace -ite in the previous term diphtérite for the disease because it affects more than one part of the body. The previous term (later for a while also spelled diphthérite) was coined in 1817 by Pierre Bretonneau using Ancient Greek διφθέρα (diphthéra, prepared hide, leather) in reference to the tough membrane that forms in the throat. Bretonneau perhaps coined and used the Latin term diphtheritis (with its close imitation of Greek spelling typical of Neolatin) even earlier than the French term diphtérite, which follows the French habit of sometimes spelling t for the Latin transliteration th of Greek θ (but not, for example, in thermomètre).



diphtheria (countable and uncountable, plural diphtherias)

  1. (pathology) A serious infectious disease leading to inflammation of mucous membranes of the upper respiratory tract, caused by Corynebacterium diphtheriae.
    • 2019, Bill Bryson, The Body: A Guide for Occupants, Black Swan (2020), page 377:
      Today diphtheria has become so rare — just five cases in the United States in the most recent decade measured — that many doctors would struggle to recognize it.


respiratory tract infection

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diphtheria (uncountable)

  1. diphtheria