trench foot / trench mouth

These terms for immersion foot and necrotizing ulcerative gingivitus, respectively, both date to World War I. Conditions in the trenches of the Western Front led to cold injuries, like Trench Foot and bacterial infections, like Trench Mouth. Both conditions were well known prior to 1914-18, but it was the war that gave them these appellations.

Trench foot appears in the 17 April 1915 issue of The Lancet:

The term trench-foot appears to us to be the most suitable for a condition which has practically only been met with in those who have had to remain for long periods in the trenches.

Trench mouth appears in print a few years later. From the Evening Mail of 1 May 1918:

We have trench mouth, just as we have trench feet. Otherwise known as ulcero-membranous stomatitis, or Vincent’s disease.

(Vincent’s disease is after J.H. Vincent (1862-1950), a French researcher who characterized the ailment.)

Once again, the piece of internet lore titled Life in the 1500s gets this one wrong. It claims that trench mouth originated in the 1600s from the practice
of eating from unclean trenchers. It also ascribes the cause to worms, which is medically incorrect.

(Source: Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd Edition)

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