Degenerative Diseases: Alexicographic Study

Armelle Debru


Since the middle of the 20th century, the expression neurodegenerative disease has expanded. If the composed term is itself relatively recent, the word degeneration has a long and a dark history and may suggest negative connotations. The successive uses of this word from its Latin origin show that besides a quasi-botanical neutral definition, it could also imply a kind of moral degradation. Such a negative meaning was reactivated in the various theories of degeneration which were flourishing during the 19th century, particularly in medical lexicology, which denotes a dramatic change in the middle of the century. Confronted to this evolution and confusion, the French doctor, lexicographer and philologist Emile Littré tried to dissociate the notion of degeneration in the botanical and histological meaning, and the new notion of dégénérescence developed in anthropology and psychiatry. His attempt, although unsuccessful, may attract our attention on the negative connotations which may continue until today.


Key words: Degenerative disease - Dégénérescence - Emile Littré - Medical lexicography

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