Maturin's Medicine M-Q

This is a part of the online glossary of the words and phrases in the Aubrey-Maturin books that are related to medical practice or general issues of human health. The main page is at Maturin's Medicine.

mad, paralyzed syphilitics (FOW 149):

In the final stage of syphilis, the brain and nerves are affected.

madder (HMSS 21, 106):

A red pigment used in paint and ink.

mad-doctor (PC 254, TMC 90):

A physician who specialises in the treatment of patients with mental problems.

mad-house (IM 198):

A mental asylum.

maggots (YA 97):

Wormlike insect larvae; used to eat decayed flesh and cleanse deep wounds.

magma (HMSS 139):

A paste of a fine solid suspended in a liquid.

maidenhead (HMSS 201):

The hymen; a symbol of virginity.

malingering (PC 335):

Feigning illness to avoid work

Malta fever (TH 100):


mammothrept (M&C 275):

A spoilt child.

mandragora, mandragore, mandrake (M&C 254, 390, HMSS 74, TH 281, LM 242, COM 188, YA 24):

A narcotic medicine.

mange (PC 397):

A dirty, scabby, scurfy skin condition.

mania (TMC 190 ):

A mental disorder, characterised by excitement and often violent behaviour.

man-midwife (SM 41):

An obstetrician

mansuetude (LM 55):


marrow (HMSS 141):

The fatty tissue that fills the cavity of bones.

marthambles (DI 123, RM 164, NC 132, 149, WDS 130, YA 226):

An unspecified illness, "known as the marthambles at sea and griping of the guts by land" [NC]. Patrick O’Brian is said to have seen the word on a pamphlet of the era by the quack doctor, Dr Tufts. It appears to be contagious and deadly to Pacific islanders.

mastic (IM 276, 277, 283):

An aromatic resin used as an astringent.

masticate (PC 182):

To chew.

maxilla (TMC 264, FSW 54):

The upper jawbone.

measles (HMSS 32, RM 31, NC 212, COM 48):

Rubeola; a specific infectious disease characterised by an eruption of rose-coloured papulae arranged in irregular circles and crescents.

medical grounds, on (PC 241):

For medical reasons.

medicine chest (HMSS 363, FSW 57, TGS 40, 53, NC 131):

See surgeon’s chest.

megrim (DI 67, BATM 157):

A severe headache or possibly vertigo.

melancholia (PC 100, TMC 190, FOW 148, RM 51, COM 98):

The archaic term for a condition of general depression.

meliorative (HMSS 125):


membrum virile (M&C 345, NC 186):

A penis.

menarche (HMSS 195):

The first time that a young woman menstruates.

menstruum (LM 270):

A solvent used in the preparation of a drug.

mephitis, mephitic (DI 107, NC 208):

A noisome or poisonous stench.

mercurial (M&C 181):

Volatile or lively.

mercurial ointment, mercurials (DI 107, C/T 143):

Preparations of mercury used to treat certain diseases.

mercury (TMC 91, C/T 76, WDS 107-126, COM 97):

A metallic element used for the treatment of syphilis until the development of antibiotics in the 1940s; also used in many industrial processes. In anything but miniscule doses it is a deadly poison. The expression "mad as a hatter" comes from the constant exposure of manufacturers of beaver hats to mercury with its cumulative effects (eg the Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland). In the 1950s, mercury ingested by fish eaten by the residents of Minamata in Japan caused permanent and widespread damage to many inhabitants. The usual dosage of mercury in the "radical Viennese treatment" was a quarter of a grain; Martin in WDS was using 4 grains. The symptoms he displays are classical for mercury poisoning.

Merry-Andrew (TH 128):

A clown or buffoon, possibly named from Andrew Borde, physician to Henry VIII.

mesmerist (SM 136):

A hypnotist.

metabolism (BATM 177):

The whole of the chemical processes that occur in the body, resulting in growth, production of energy and elimination of waste.

metacarpals (TMC 294):

The bones of the hand between the writs and the fingers.

metopic suture (TMC 297):

The fibrous material down the middle of the forehead where the two frontal bones meet.

mewl (HMSS 300):

To whimper.

miasma, miasmatic (PC 122, RM 46, COM 207):

Noxious or infectious exhalations; malarial.

micturation (NC 185):

A morbid frequency in the voiding of urine.

military fever (FSW 31, THD 237):

Typhoid fever, an acute infectious disease characterised by high fever, red spots on the cheat or abdomen, and often intestinal bleeding.

milk-and-water hellebore (RM 51):

An ineffectual treatment.

minim (TMC 140):

A unit of fluid measure equal to a drop.

moist humours (TH 224):

The moisture that one expels breathing out, or breathing with one’s mouth open.

molar (PC 241, HMSS 127, FSW 54, NC 116):

A tooth used for grinding, located on the side and back of the jaw.

moonpall (HMSS 98, NC 193):

Another fictitious disease found by O’Brian on a Dr Tufts pamphlet. See marthambles.

morbid (M&C 109, TMC 340, DI 105, LM 55):

Indicative of disease, or unhealthy.

morbid depression of spirits (COM 98):

Suicidal depression.

mortification, mortifying (FSW 292, C/T 232, WDS 25):

Tissue death as a result of gangrene.

muddle-headed (TMC 76):


Mullins’ Patent Balm (FSW 113):

A patent medicine.??

mummified (HMSS 139):


mumpishness (TH 191):

Sullenly angry.

mumps (IM 228, 266, 280):

An acute contagious viral disease of the parotid salivary glands.

Mungo’s cordial (IM 112):

A patent medicine??

musk (C/T 143):

A substance that has a penetrating, persistent odor, that is obtained from a sac under the abdomen of the male musk deer, used medically as a stimulant.

mutilated (HMSS 102):

Badly injured.

mutton suet (YA 124):

The fat surrounding the kidneys, essential for suet puddings.

myopic (HMSS 108):


nacreous (NC 96):

Having the lustre of mother-of-pearl.

naevus (NC 58):

A congenital growth or pigmented blemish on the skin; a birthmark.

narcosis (LM 187):

Unconsciousness induced by narcotics.

natural humors (SM 61):

Four fluids - blood, phlegm, yellow bile (choler) and black bile (melancholy) traditionally believed to constitute the body.

nausea (HMSS 138, 224, 236, 264, SM 80):

The sensation that precedes vomiting.

naval surgeon (PC 254, 355):

A surgeon operating on a naval ship.

necessary pot (PC 265):

A chamber pot or portable toilet.

nepenthe (FOW 128, LM 242):

A drug, inducing sleep, forgetfulness or pleasurable dreaminess.

nexus (TMC 190):

A connection.

nitrous oxide (PC 266, BATM 73):

A gas that when inhaled produces exhilaration or anaesthesia.

nobble (YA 70):

To disable a horse, as by drugging.

nostrum (M&C 26, HMSS 76):

A quack medicine.

Nothcote’s Marine Practice (M&C 67, 130):

William Northcote published the Marine Practice of Physic and Surgery in 1770. It dealt with clinical treatment rather than diagnosis.

noxious (IM 136):


noxious damps (NC 122):

Unhealthy moist air.

noxious principle (DI 107):

A poisonous agent causing disease.

nympholept (FOW 128):

One in the clutches of a demonic enthusiasm or frenzy, held by the ancients to seize one bewitched by a nymph.

obese (HMSS 252, TGS 194):


obnubilate (TMC 243):

To darken or obscure.

oedema (YA 196):

An abnormal accumulation of fluid in cells, tissues, or cavities of the body, resulting in swelling (alternate spelling - edema).

oesophagus (TMC 168):

The gullet.

offending member (SM 177):

In this case, the penis.

offensive breath (DI 271):

Ill-smelling breath was one of the symptoms of scurvy.

official chest (M&C 67):

See surgeon’s chest

oil of amber (C/T 144):

A pale yellow-to-brownish essential oil of empyreumatic odor and acrid taste, made by destructive distillation of amber.

oil of cloves (NC 116):

A powerful antiseptic and soothing dressing for toothache.

oil of sesame (HMSS 332):

A soothing oil.

oiled silk-stone (FOW 112):

A fine-grained whetstone to which oil had been applied.

ointment (PC 192):

A preparation applied to the skin to heal or protect.

old wives' remedies (HMSS 76):

Traditional remedies.

old-fashioned (FOW 118):

Not in good health.

open their veins (M&C 272):

See bleeding.

operate (PC 436):

To perform a surgical operation upon a patient.

ophthalmia (TH 216):

Inflammation of the eye.

opiate (SM 321, LM 55, NC 132):

A narcotic drug containing opium.

opisthotonos (IM 109):

A rigid arching of the back and neck.

opium (PC 437, HMSS 194, TMC 342, DI 15, TGS 18, 30, NC 77, 116, 271, COM 98, BATM 36, 73):

An addictive narcotic drug derived from the opium poppy.

orange peel, decoction (DI 90):

Orange peel boiled in water, used to mask the taste of the bark and to help settle their stomachs.

orbicular folds (SM 42):

The folds around the eye.

orchitis (PC 481, FOW 31, IM 228):

Inflammation of the testicles, frequently as a result of mumps in an individual past puberty and often resulting in sterility and impotence.

oriental apothecary (PC 192):

A dispenser of Chinese medicine, or possibly middle-Eastern ??

orris-root (PC 247):

The powdered rhizome of the common yellow water iris (Iris pseudacorus) with a delightful violet scent, so is much used in pot pourri. Medicinally, it is used to check diarrhoea and leucorrhea, and to ease menstrual pains.

osteology (NC 77):

The study of the structure and function of bones.

overset (HMSS 76):


pacimollify (FSW 356):

A portmanteau word from pacify and mollify.

paederast, paederasty (HMSS 26, FOW 67, TH 216, 245, FSW 203, LM 182, TGS 203):

A man who has homosexual relations with boys.

pallor (PC 437, LM 213, 226):


palpable (HMSS 266, DI 144, TGS 165):

Perceptible by touch.

palpate (HMSS 141):

To examine the body by touch.

palpitations (PC 99):

Rapid beating of the heart.

palsy (TMC 203, DI 52):

A disease of the nervous system characterized by impairment or suspension of muscular action or sensation, or paralysis.

panacea (TMC 202, LM 55, 80, TGS 30):

A remedy of all diseases.

pancreas (SM 219, IM 9, NC 190, YA 30):

An abdominal organ which secretes insulin and pancreatic juice.

pap (FSW 107, TGS 166):

A soft or semi-liquid food, such as bread softened in milk, given to invalids.

Paracelcus (TMC 242, IM 58, TGS 30):

Theophrastus Phillipus Aureolus Bombastus von Hohenheim (1493-1541) was a Swiss-born military surgeon whose thinking on the diagnosis of disease and treatment of wounds was ahead of his time.

paralytic (TH 33, NC 304):

Dead drunk.

parasites (NC 211):


parasites (TGS 234):


parasol (PC 110):

A type of edible mushroom.

parched (HMSS 357):

Very thirsty.

parietal (TMC 297):

Relating to the walls of a part of a body cavity, especially the skull.

paroxysm (HMSS 162):

An uncontrollable outburst.

parthenogenetically (FSW 144, TGS 77):

Relating to conception without fertilisation by a male.

parts (PC 285):


Pascal, better healthy than sick (NC 248):

Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) was a French mathematician, philosopher and scientist. In his Pensées, he criticises men¬ís belief that they cannot be happy unless their health, their honour, their fortune and that of their friends be in good condition (143).

pate (HMSS 109):

The head.

patella (NC 302):

The bone that forms the kneecap.

peccant (M&C 345, TMC 210, IM 108, 112):

Sinning or offending; morbid, unhealthy or corrupt.

Pediculus capitis (PC 181):

The head louse.

Pediculus vestimenti (PC 180):

The body louse, often found in clothes; the carrier of gaol fever (typhus).

peppered (M&C 181):

Infected with venereal disease.

percussion (YA 196):

Striking or tapping of the chest, back, etc. with the fingertips to determine from the sound produced the condition of internal organs.

pericardium (HMSS 351):

The membrane enclosing the heart.

peristalsis (NC 185):

The succession of waves of involuntary muscular contraction of various bodily tubes, especially the alimentary tract.

peritoneum, peritoneal (LM 276, NC 14):

The lining of the walls of the abdominal cavity.

Peruvian Bark (M&C 138, DI 90):

Cinchona succirubra, a febrifuge, tonic and astringent; valuable for influenza, neuralgia and debility. Also known as Jesuit’s Powder.

pest (BATM 190):

An epidemic disease or pestilence.

petechia, petechiae (HMSS 118, DI 144):

A small red or purple spot on the skin, caused by extravasation of blood, occurring in certain fevers.

pettishness (LM 210):


pewl (HMSS 300):

See pule.

pharmacopoeia (SM 321, LM 55, 270):

An authoritative book containing a list of medicines with their uses, preparation and dosages.

pharynx (DI 90, COM 188):

The cavity behind the nose and mouth, extending to the oesophagus.

phial (SM 158, 321, BATM 246):

A small bottle for liquids.

phiz (HMSS 339):

The face.

phlebotomy (TMC 242):

A surgical incision of a vein.

phlegm (TMC 224):

Stolidity or lack of emotion.

phlegmatic (YA 227, BATM 210):

Sluggish, dull or apathetic.

phthisis, phthisical (M&C 37, HMSS 86, FOW 43, THD 190):

A disease causing wasting of the body, especially pulmonary tuberculosis.

physic, physical (M&C 42, 187, PC 17, 122, 287, 386, 388, 390, HMSS 136, 360, TMC 66, DI 307, SM 176, 321, IM 112, TH 126, 137, 141, FSW 65, 172, 176, 222, 309, LM 23, 26, 80, 200, 278, TGS 165, 166, 280, 285, NC 230, 289, COM 243, YA 196):

Medicine, relating to medicine, or to treat with medicine.

physical bob (M&C 53, NC 86):

A wig, of a type worn by physicians.

physical gent, gentleman, chap (PC 437, HMSS 338, THD 24):

A physician.

physical medicine (TMC 91):

Medicine performed by a physician, as opposed to a surgeon.

physic-glass (TMC 242):

A glass in which medicine is taken.

physician (PC 62, 168, HMSS 76, 88, 225, TMC 35, DI 14, IM 70, FSW 54, 57, 153, SM 176, 322, LM 58, 210, 273, TGS 18, 101, 109, 139, NC 21, 23, 54, 86, 116, THD 29, BATM 121, 204):

A person qualified to perform the healing arts - not just surgery.

Physician of the Fleet (PC 62,167, 410, IM 97, FSW 30, LM 247, TGS 91, 139, THD 10, 11):

The highest medical officer in a Fleet - eg Channel, Mediterranean, West Indies, Baltic - in the Royal Navy.

physic-nut (DI 127, 308):

The fruit of Curcas purgans, used as a purgative.

physic-spoon (PC 402):

A metal spoon with hinged lid and tubular handle, with a narrow spout used for giving medicines, especially castor oil.

physiognomist (TMC 28):

A student of the relationship between a person’s appearance and their personality.

physiologist (SM 214):

A student of physiology.

physiology (TH 247):

The branch of science concerned with the functioning of organisms.

pierced (LM 123):

Punctured, as in a sharp instrument piercing the flesh.

piles (M&C 271, THD 110):

Haemorrhoids - enlarged veins in the lower rectum.

pill-box (TGS 283, NC 230):

A small metal container, usually round, for carrying pills.

pills from the same box (TMC 191):

Medicines with a similar effect.

pimple (TMC 71):

An inflamed swelling of the skin.

pissed emerald green (TMC 193):

A symptom of the poisoning resulting from eating the wrong sort of turtle??

placebo, placebo effect (HMSS 264, TMC 92, THD 16):

A placebo is any treatment or medicine that produces no physical effect on the body, a "sugar pill", but can nevertheless make a patient feel better when the patient believes in the efficacy of the treatment.

plague (M&C 107, 155, HMSS 58, 244, DI 148, RM 180, 227, 239, NC 22, BATM 190):

A highly fatal infectious disease that is caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, is transmitted primarily by the bite of a rat flea, and occurs in bubonic, pneumonic, and septicaemic forms.

pledget (M&C 130, HMSS 295, 353, IM 246, NC 134, YA 222, BATM 7):

A small wound dressing, especially for use as a pressure bandage.

plethora, plethory (TGS 165, NC 230, 258, COM 225):

An abnormal condition characterized by an excess of blood in the circulatory system or in some part of it, especially dilation of superficial blood vessels, resulting in a reddish complexion..

pleura (C/T 124):

Either of a pair of two-walled sacs of serous membrane each lining one lateral half of the thorax.

pleura, effects on (WDS 10):

A collapsed lung caused by penetration of an object into the lung, letting air escape into the pleural cavity.

pneumonia (HMSS 166, 174, SM 332, BATM 172):

An inflammation of the lungs, resulting in extreme difficulty in breathing.

pocket lancet (HMSS 139, FSW 282):

A folding lancet??

pock-mark (HMSS 56, NC 208):

A small scar, usually on the face or neck, resulting from an eruptive disease, such as small pox.

poisonous spur (NC 313):

A sharp protuberance on the hind leg of the platypus, capable of injecting venom.

polypody of the oak (TMC 190, DI 90):

A fern whose dried root is used as a mild laxative, a tonic for dyspepsia and loss of appetite.

popliteal aneurism (TGS 40):

An enlargement of part of the popliteal artery, just behind the knee joint. If it ruptured, the results were usually fatal.

poppy (M&C 390, TMC 243, FSW 154, LM 242, YA 24, BATM 182, 188, 248):


portable soup (IM 208, FSW 57, LM 108, TGS 29, NC 170, 224, THD 250, 255):

Soup stock, in solid slabs.

porter (PC 247, 386, 387, 388, 389, 392, 393, 396, 397, 401, 468 ):

A dark sweet ale brewed from black malt, used to “build you up”.

posset (HMSS 74, IM 71):

A drink of hot milk curdled with beer and flavoured with spices, as a remedy for colds.

posterior border (TGS 190):

Part of the spleen??

post-mortem (YA 196):

An examination of a body to determine the cause of death.

potable (TMC 202):


Pott (FSW 314):

Percival Pott (1713-1788) wrote Observations on Injuries of the Head.

poultice (IM 35, LM 88):

A moist dressing, often heated, applied to the skin to improve circulation.

powder (TH 141):

A drug prepared in powdered form. It may be administered by placing it on the tongue and washed over with water; but others have to mixed with water before being taken.

powder of Algaroth (PC 481):

A white powder which is a compound of trichloride and trioxide of antimony. It was used as an emetic, purgative, and diaphoretic.

powder-burn (COM 185):

A burn caused by exposure to a gunpowder explosion.

pox (M&C 42, PC 100, HMSS 113, IM 198, RM 15, LM 146, WDS 74, COM 115, YA 201, BATM 40, 216):

A common term for syphilis.

poxed (HMSS 360, TMC 194, IM 47, TGS 249, NC 212, BATM 6):

Usually means infected with syphilis, but in the case of Sarah and Emily Sweeting the reference is to smallpox.

Prabang infection (TGS 283):

A local variety of venereal disease??

praecordia (COM 225):

The part of the ventral surface of the body overlying the heart and stomach, comprising the epigastrium and the lower median part of the thorax.

pratique boat (HMSS 58):

The vessel which gave permission for a ship to enter a foreign port after having satisfied local health requirements.

prescription (HMSS 144):

A written instruction for the supply and usage of a drug.

pressure-point (BATM 7):

A point in the body, above an artery, which when pressed will control bleeding on the side away from the heart.

prickly heat (HMSS 342):

An acute itching skin eruption, caused by blocking of the sweat glands.

primary resection (M&C 68):

A resection is the excision of part of a bone or organ. Primary resection is surgery performed at the earliest possible stage, before inflammation supervenes; secondary is surgery performed after suppuration has set in.

private corpse (FOW 233):

A cadaver obtained by a medical student for private anatomical study.

private parts, privates (PC 201, FSW 344):


privy (PC 265):

A toilet or lavatory.

probe (TMC 264):

A medial instrument used to explore a wound.

prodrome (DI 130):

A symptom indicating the onset of a disease.

promoter of Venus (FSW 135):

An agent which induces sexual activity.

prophylactic (PC 122):

Something used to prevent disease - not used as a term for a contraceptive in Maturin’s time.

prostration, prostrating (HMSS 97, COM 229):

Utter physical or mental exhaustion or helplessness.

proud flesh (FSW 292):

Excessive granulation tissue; a mass of new tissue formed on the surface of a healing ulcer or wound. The term indicates swollen with pride.

ptyalism (C/T 144):

Excessive flow of saliva.

pule, puling (DI 109, BATM 81):

To cry or whine.

pulmonary (TGS 140):

Relating to disorders of the lungs.

pulmony (IM 158):

Lung disease.

pulse (PC17, YA 195, BATM 241):

Vibration in the arteries as blood is pumped. It is used as an indicator of the state of one’s health.

pulvis Doveri (RM 239):

Dover’s powder, a powdered drug containing ipecac and opium, formerly used to relieve pain and induce perspiration.

purgative (TGS 281, BATM 86, 103):

A drug for purging the bowels.

purge, purging (HMSS 119, TMC 91, NC 188, COM 225, YA 201):

To cleanse, usually through emptying the bowels.

purger (TMC 202):

A medicine used to evacuate the bowels; a laxative.

purpura (DI 289):

A symptom of a disease due to a morbid state of blood or blood vessels, characterized by purple or livid spots scattered irregularly over the skin, with great debility and depression.

purulent (HMSS 140):

Containing pus.

pus, laudable (FOW 132, RM 47, NC 188):

The usually yellowish-white liquid matter produced in certain infections; laudable pus being thought to be the cleansing exudation of the poison.

quack (HMSS 76):

An unqualified medical practitioner.

quackeen (DI 153):

A quack or ignorant pretender to medical skill.

quacksalver (TMC 242, DI 51, FSW 54, YA 226):

A quack.

quadrate lobe (C/T 28):

A square lobe; also, a bone or cartilage of the skull in birds, bony fishes, amphibians, and reptiles, to which the lower jaw is joined.

quarantine (HMSS 58):

A period of isolation of people with contagious diseases.

quarantine-officer (TGS 68):

An officer in a port responsible for keeping vessels carrying people with contagious diseases separate from others.

quartan ague (RM 51):

A type of malaria in which the paroxysms occur every fourth day.

quartans (COM 242):

Occurring every fourth day, (counting both days of occurrence) It is said of a fever; a type of malaria in which the paroxysms occur every fourth day.

quarter-gallery (NC 233, 234):

Small rooms built out on the quarters - often, but not necessarily used as lavatories, but also used for the lieutenants as such (attached to the back of the ward-room), as well as the captain.

quasi-calcification of the palmar aponeurosis (DI 16, SM 150, THD 32, 200):

Also known as "Dupuytren’s contracture," (see entry for Dupuytren) a flexion deformity of the hands caused by thickening of the fascia, or fibrous connective tissue, of the palm. The proliferation of connective tissue causes the tendons of one or more fingers te," (see entry for Dupuytren) a flexion deformity of the hands caused by thickening of the fascia, or fibrous connective tissue, of the palm. The proliferation of connective tissue causes the tendons of one or more fingers to shorten and tighten, leaving the finger permanently flexed. Disability may be as slight as inability to extend the ring finger completely or as severe as complete curling of the hand into a closed fist. The contracture does not affect neighboring nerves and other structures. Dupuytren’s contracture may be inherited or may occur as a symptom of scleroderma or rheumatoid arthritis.

Queen Anne’s Gift (M&C 42):

A sum of money granted to naval surgeons annually in addition to their monthly 2d per man.

quicksilver (TMC 38, DI 106, C/T 178, COM 98, YA 124):


quietus (YA 206):

Anything that kills; a release from life.

Quinn’s draught (RM 239):


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Last updated 18 March 2002