Yesterday we looked at John Florio. Let us look at one word: “smorbare”. In the 1598 edition, Florio gives the definition “to disinfect, to cure, to heal”. Just to show how many changes he really made in his masterwork, the 1611 edition he updates the text with “to clean or rid from any contagion or infectious disease”.
In English getting sick as a result of infection goes back to 1400 or so (cf. John Trevisa). The reverse process of actually doing something against disease is mentioned for the first time by John Florio, and the word remained only in the dictionary for a long time afterwards. After all, the microscope was only discovered in 1680 and it took hundreds of years before there was any awareness that there were active possibilities to combat disease and infection, like filtration. Something like 200 years.
Washing hands as a means to prevent disease was something ridiculous in the 1800s. Any yet using chlorine in water has been cited as the key factor for increasing life expectancy in the twentieth century. But it was only in 1948 that the United States passed the first law regulating the matter.
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