047: What Does The Word Herpes Really Mean? With Alexandra Harbushka

The creeper, the snake and good old herpes

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Life With Herpes Podcast

I'm so glad to be here with you for another episode of Life With Herpes! I was in boot camp this morning and I was thinking: I wonder what herpes really means, like what does the word really mean?

So I decided to do some research and report back on my findings. Join me to hear all about it on episode 47 of Life With Herpes.

More About Life With Herpes


If I asked you what does herpes mean to you, you might respond telling me it means any number of things. For many of us our first response to finding out we have the virus is that our life is over, socially. For others, it means we are physically in pain from the virus and the blisters of an outbreak.


And the medical definition is something we've talked about over and over again: it is a virus that is transmitted skin to skin from human to human from the touch of an infected person to an uninfected person. It is a virus that lies dormant in our nervous system and we have it for life.


But those are all descriptions of how herpes shows up in our lives. What does the word herpes really mean, though?


Tweetable:  “Herpes has been a blessing in disguise!”-  

Alexandra Harbushka

I decided to research the exact meaning of the word. Here is how Dictionary.com defines the word herpes: it is a noun. It is any of severe diseases caused by the herpes virus characterized by the eruption of blisters on the skin or mucous membranes. Words you can compare it to are chickenpox, genital herpes, oral herpes, and shingles.

So from there, I wanted to dig in a little further. I wanted to know where did this word come from, how did we come up with it, etc.

I found out it is a Greek word (I was excited to hear that because I'm Greek on my dad’s side!). The word itself was coined circa 1375-1425, from late Middle English.

Dictionary.com goes to explain the New Latin description of herpes as a cutaneous eruption, while the Greek meaning is hérpēs, which literally translates into creeping (akin from the Greek hérpein to creep, spread).

Look at that definition and description of herpes - from the very beginning, this disease had no chance of anyone being nonchalant about it! It starts off as creeping - so not only do we have the social stigma attached (you're dirty, you're a whore, you slept around, etc), but the root word is creeping! That doesn't sound good at all.

Now if you take the Greek translation and conjugate it with the Latin meaning of the word, which is serpēns (the word for serpent). Take those two words and combine them: you have a creeping snake! That sounds horrible, doesn't it?!

If we add the late English word’s translation of cutaneous eruption we now have the creeping snake with cutaneous eruption. What a horrible image! With an origin like that the herpes virus had zero chance of being a normal virus, like chicken pox (which is in the same family as herpes).

Anyway, I wanted to put this out there for you so you can know what the word really means. It’s commonplace for me to use the word herpes, but I didn’t know much about its origin before I looked it up for today’s show.

I thought it was interesting how the meaning plays into the stigma, which itself is just BS. Let's no longer look at herpes as "the creeping snake" and instead realize it's a part of you and it's a part of me. I know I'm not a creeping snake, I'm not a creeper or a serpent - and I know you're not either!

Herpes has actually been a gift to me, it’s helped me begin to love every part of my body, even the fact that I have herpes. It's been a blessing in disguise, and it's changed my life. It's changed my health, and the way I treated myself and my body. It has allowed me to begin on this self-love and self-respect journey that is endless and goes deeper all the time.

And I'm glad you are a part of that journey, thank you for being here and thank you for listening to episode 47 of Life With Herpes.

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