from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.

  • noun obsolete, used in historical fiction A particular ailment unknown to, and uncurable by, medical science


from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

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. Tompson's "The Quacks of Old London"(page 100), the marthambles is one of several nonexistent diseases invented by Dr. Tufts in a pamphlet circa 1700s in order to sell his tonics and medicines. Other diseases mentioned in Tuft's 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.


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  • Man, how I remember those days - putting leeches on saddlesores to bring the swelling down, and suffering with terrible marthambles from the pickle juice in my bidon.

    The Future is Meh, the Apocalypse is Nigh: Tempting Fate

  • Our mommas always told us these things were evil (and now our wives do as well), because the candy is not hermetically/cryogenically/hygienically sealed and will no doubt give us rickets, scurvy, the marthambles, lockjaw and the blind staggers if we eat it.

    Summit Daily News - Top Stories

  • All of this seems to confirm that a mountebank named Tuft, circa 1700, was indeed claiming to have discovered some new diseases that included the marthambles, the moon pall, and the strong fives.

    Language Log

  • Pending further information, I'm inclined to believe that that Copeman 1960's inclusion of marthambles to Tudor medical terminology was a mistake, perhaps in turn responsible for Dorothy Dunnett's use in

    Language Log

  • Patrick O'Brian also refers to the marthambles, the strong fives and the moon pall on page 30 of his book

    Language Log

  • Both Tuft's advertisement and Thompson's discussion assert that as of that time, "the marthambles" had NOT been a commonly-used term for more than a century.

    Language Log

  • (page 100), the marthambles is one of several nonexistent diseases invented by a Dr. Tufts in a pamphlet in order to sell his tonics and medicines.

    Language Log


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  • "The people were used to his ways, and he was welcome whenever he came; he had cured Mrs Broad, the landlady and an excellent plain cook, of the marthambles, and the boots of a less creditable disease; he could do much as he pleased at the Grapes..." -- Patrick O'Brian, The Surgeon's Mate, 168

    February 7, 2008

  • "...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: he could not cure it. 'He will go in an hour or so, I believe,' said Macmillan..."

    --Patrick O'Brian, The Nutmeg of Consolation, 152

    March 6, 2008

  • This word is used in Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin novels as a name of an ailment, the name being used by sailors rather than medical practitioners. O'Brian says that he found it in a 17th century quack's pamphlet.

    June 19, 2009

  • Compare lurgy.

    November 26, 2016