Caterpickles consults Daddyo: What does “fever and ague” mean?

Little HouseSeems like every 30th second grader we passed while trick or treating this year was dressed up as Laura Ingalls Wilder. Second grade must be when everyone reads Little House on the Prairie. The Seven-Year-Old, succumbing to the happy sort of peer pressure, pulled down our copy of Little House from the office bookshelves and dove right in.

Almost immediately she was struck by one of the things I love most about reading old books. The weird medical terms you can find buried within them.

The Seven-Year-Old, curiously: “What does ‘fever and ague’ mean?”

Daddyo, authoritatively: “A nonspecific illness involving a fever.”

(A moment later) Daddyo, quietly: “Mommyo, is that really what ‘ague’ means?”

Mommyo, loudly: “Why ask me? You’re the doctor.”

Daddyo, quietly: “Yes. But I wasn’t practicing in 1875.”

For the curious, yes, Daddyo was right. According to Merriam-Webster, ague is:

“a fever (such as malaria) marked by paroxysms of chills, fever, and sweating that recur at regular intervals.”

Strong work, Howell.


About Shala Howell

I spent two decades helping companies like Bell Labs, Juniper Networks, and a genetic testing company that was later acquired by CVS translate some of the world’s most complicated concepts into actionable, understandable English. Now I'm working on a much harder problem -- fostering children’s curiosity and engagement in the scientific, artistic, and linguistic world that surrounds them. The first book in my Caterpickles Parenting Series, What’s That, Mom?, focuses on how to use public art to nurture children’s curiosity in the world around them. My next book will focus on science, and how parents without a science degree can answer their curious child's questions without enrolling in a college level refresher course. In the meantime, you can find me blogging about life with a very curious Eleven-Year-Old at, chatting about books and the writing life at, and tweeting about books, writing, science, & things that make me smile at @shalahowell.
This entry was posted in Ask the iPhone, Caterpickles Consults, Funny Stuff My Husband Says, Reading and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Caterpickles consults Daddyo: What does “fever and ague” mean?

  1. rayworth1973 says:

    It would seem to be a rather obscure term but it’s still used quite a bit in the medical field. I know, I’m a medical biller.


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