At Fatigue's Root

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The word "fatigue," from the Latin "fatigare" via the French "fatiguer," first appeared in the mid- to late 17th century, according to dictionaries. But it wasn't used in a medical sense until the late 18th century, says British psychiatrist Simon Wessely, a leading fatigue researcher and head of the Department of Psychological Medicine at the Institute of Psychiatry at King's College in London.

"Fatigue as a medical condition first appears in 1869 with George Beard, a New York neurologist, who coined the term 'neurasthenia,' meaning nerve weakness (which he meant literally), and then wrote a book about it called 'American Nervousness' in 1881," Wessely writes in an e-mail interview. "Remember that nervousness did not mean what it does now, but meant a literal physical disease of the nerves, which is what he thought it was.

"What was labeled neurasthenia in the 19th century is clearly what we now call CFS," or chronic fatigue syndrome.

-- Jennifer Huget

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company