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Feb 2012

The Clap Heard Round the World

Author Affiliations

Author Affiliations: Departments of Dermatology, Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island (Dr Lee), and Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina (Dr Ladizinski).

Arch Dermatol. 2012;148(2):223. doi:10.1001/archdermatol.2011.2716

Gonorrhea is an ancient disease that was transmitted by Chinese tradesman bartering their goods, Greek soldiers fighting for new territory, and international businessmen traveling across the world. The earliest written description dates from 2600 BC, in which Chinese Emperor Huang Ti describes a disease resembling gonorrhea in his medical textbook. Leviticus 15:2 refers to men with urethral discharge as follows: “[W]hen any man hath a running issue out of his flesh, because of his issue he is unclean. ” Galen, a Greek physician (AD 130-200), is credited with naming gonorrhea after gonos (semen) and rhoia (to flow). He mistakenly attributed the disease to an involuntary ejaculation of semen.1 By the 1500s, gonorrhea's association with prostitution and sexual activity was noted. The evolution of gonorrhea's slang name, the clap, comes from the French words les clapiers. A literal translation of les clapiers is rabbit huts, referring to the small huts where prostitutes often lived and serviced their customers.

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