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Apparently coined by a Dr. Tufts of early 18th-century London, as the name of one of five diseases his medicine was claimed to be able to cure. According to C.J.S. Thompson's "The Quacks of Old London" (page 110), the marthambles is one of several nonexistent diseases invented by Dr. Tufts in a pamphlet circa 1700 in order to sell his tonics and medicines. Other diseases mentioned in Tufts' pamphlet are the "Strong Fives", the "Moon Pall", and the "Hockogrockle". Tufts claimed to have encountered these diseases on his travels over a period of forty years, and that he could cure them all.


marthambles (uncountable)

  1. (obsolete, used in historical fiction) A particular ailment unknown to, and uncurable by, medical science
    • circa 1700, Dr. Tufts, handbill, as reproduced in Relics of Literature by Ruben Percy, published 1828, page 218:
      These are to give notice, (for the benefit of the public,) that there is newly arrived from his travels, a gentleman, who, after above forty years' study, hath, by a wonderful blessing on his endeavours, discovered, as well the nature as the infallible cure of several strange diseases, which (though as yet not known to the world) he will plainly demonstrate to any ingenious artist, to be the greatest causes of the most common distempers incident to the body of man. The names of which take as follow : / The strong fives / The marthambles / The moon-pall / The hockogrocle.
    • 1971, Dorothy Dunnett, The Ringed Castle[1], 1997 Vintage ed. edition, →ISBN, page 224:
      If you can manage an attack of the Marthambles, we could persuade one to say an incantation over you. You would then be anointed with infallible remedies -- say, live earworms mashed into alcohol.
    • 1991, Patrick O'Brian, The Nutmeg of Consolation[2], →ISBN, page 132:
      [] Abse, a member of the afterguard, whose complaint was known as the marthambles at sea and griping of the guts by land, a disease whose cause Stephen did not know and whose symptoms he could only render more nearly bearable by opiates []

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