'''LEPROSY. TUBERCULOSIS. SYPHILIS. CANCER. AIDS. [[ArsonMurderAndJaywalking DIARRHEA]].'''

There are some illnesses that we don't like talking about. Today, we are much more open about it, but once, not that long ago really, the names of these illnesses were verboten. You did not mention them. Doctors might not tell the patient what they were suffering from. Media would avoid saying their names. You used a nickname or euphemism if you have to talk about them, avoiding the dreaded name. You just never brought them up. They tended to be illnesses that cannot be cured and/or are transmitted sexually. As medical science has advanced and public attitudes to sex have loosened, they have become more acceptable, but some, most often AIDS, are still treated as taboo. Another variant are diseases that involve some embarrassing biological function or body part, such as diarrhea on the list above[[note]]although it also kills thousands of people each year, despite being treatable even in the worst case for under a dollar[[/note]], or pretty much any other ailment involving the backside or groin.

Cancer is a special case. There was a time, back before anesthesia and asepsis, when most cancers were never diagnosed. Doctors could easily recognize breast, cervical, and vaginal cancers from an external examination, but without surgery, X-rays, or medical laboratories, they couldn't detect internal cancers. Because of this, cancer was seen as mainly a woman's disease, and one that could affect any woman: certainly nothing to be ashamed about in any event. By the early 20th century, however, X-rays and surgery had made it possible to diagnose almost any cancer. Unfortunately, it didn't allow them to do anything about most cancers, since patients often didn't see their doctors until the condition was terminal. Cancer therefore became synonymous with "death sentence" and the word gained a sinister reputation. Even now, when half of all cancers can be cured, the word is considered much more malevolent than it would have been in the early 1800s. This is why modern readers of Anthony Trollope's Barsetshire novel ''Doctor Thorne'' are often shocked when Trollope steps away from the church politics for a moment to frankly describe a woman dying of breast cancer, described as such. In his time, it wouldn't have been shocking.

Its also a way for an artist to hedge their bets [[YouFailBiologyForever in case they got something wrong]], as they can't portray X Condition wrong if they never ''say'' it's X Condition.

Another aspect of the taboo is that many people consider it TemptingFate to talk about diseases, in the same sense as SpeakOfTheDevil and TheScottishTrope. And as the close associates of the asbestos miner who died of cancer also died of cancer after talking about the fact that he had cancer, and plague victims died after going to the market and talking to people about who had the plague, and everyone who gossiped about Phil having cholera as they drew water from the well next to the dump came down with cholera...cue centuries of the AssociationFallacy.

Almost the inverse of an IncurableCoughOfDeath, in that there the illness is [[IncrediblyLamePun ill]]-defined, thus vague. Here it is known, but kept vague.

In some languages, like [[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dutch_profanity Dutch]], names of diseases make up most of the language's profanity.

See also SecretlyDying (which this trope often entails,) NeverSayDie, VictorianNovelDisease, IllGirl, LittlestCancerPatient, TheScottishTrope, AmbiguousDisorder.
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!!Examples

[[foldercontrol]]

[[folder:Anime & Manga]]
* An interesting variation occurs in the ''RurouniKenshin: Seishohen'' OVA, where Kenshin [[spoiler:and later Kaoru]] suffer from an unknown disease. Fans either call it [[FanNickname "Super Tuberculosis"]] or speculate that it may be syphilis based on the symptoms, but it's likely either a specific unmentionable or one they just made up. In either case what exactly it is never gets brought up, but seeing as it's set in late 1800s Japan this may be justified by the setting.
* 13th squad captain Jushiro Ukitake from ''Manga/{{Bleach}}'' has a never-named illness that may have cause his hair to lose its color (his eyebrows are black, the rest is white), leads to him laying in bed sick a lot, and occasionally makes him cough up blood. A FanNickname of his is "Captain Tuberculosis."
** Tubercolosis, incidentally, is not known to dye your hair in RealLife.
* In an SBS of ''OnePiece'', [[WordOfGod Oda Eiichiro]] was asked if a disease he had mentioned in the series was real. He noted that, yes, it definitely is real, but the name and general idea was tweaked a bit to sound fictional. Apparently, in the manga business, some terms/diseases are frowned upon for being "too real."
* Hyatt from ''Manga/ExcelSaga'' suffers from some unknown disease that causes her to ''vomit blood and die'' on a regular basis. [[TheyKilledKenny She always gets better, though.]]
[[/folder]]

[[folder:Comics]]
* Creator/JackChick's tract "Wounded Children" contains an odd variant: A DepravedHomosexual speaks of his lover dying of "cancer", which a [[FootnoteFever footnote]] tells us means "AIDS".
** JerkassHasAPoint: it wasn't unusual in the 80's for people with HIV to say they had cancer, if they preferred people not ask questions about how they got infected. In most cases, it's technically not even a lie, since Karposi's Sarcoma is an opportunistic skin cancer AIDS victims tend to die from (the infamous black lesions).
* There's an autobiography (in graphic novel form) called ''Stitches'', about this guy's crapsack childhood. At one point his parents don't tell him that he has and is about to undergo surgery for throat cancer. He finds out by accident a while later, and when he asks why he wasn't told they tell him it's because he "didn't need to know."
[[/folder]]

[[folder:Films -- Live-Action]]
* An amazing example in 1939 {{Tearjerker}} ''Film/DarkVictory'', which uses words like "glioma", "growth", and "malignant", and kills off the IllGirl at the end, but never says "cancer" or "brain cancer".
* Even pregnancy can fall to this. In one of the ''Benji'' movies, Tiffany (the dog) was referred to as being "ill" when they meant "about to have puppies".
* In ''MoulinRouge'', Satine has consumption (tuberculosis), but this is kept from her until near the end of the movie when she [[spoiler:dies from it onstage.]]
* At the end of ''ForrestGump'', Jenny tells Forrest that she's "sick". It's never said what she had, only that it's a virus and was terminal. Given the disapproving tone surrounding Jenny's Bohemian lifestyle outside of Forrest's orbit, and that Jenny could be seen as experiencing the "bad side" of decades versus Forrest's hopeful one, it was often assumed the 1980s setting meant it would be AIDS. An especially sad case as Jenny was still incredibly unsure of herself when she left Forrest the second time, before Forrest Jr. was born, and a relapse occurred during their life apart. Also leads to some complaints that verge on RealityIsUnrealistic since the fact that neither Forrest nor their son seem to be infected can happen if an infected person is careful, and straight men are at low (not zero) risk of infection through sex.
* In ''Film/MirrorMask'', it's never said outright what is afflicting Helena's mother, but the implication is pretty clear that it's a brain tumor (it's also stated explicitly in the companion book).
* ''Film/SecretsAndLies'': The cause of [[spoiler:Monica's infertility]] is never mentioned, although some have speculated that it might have been [[spoiler:endometriosis]].
[[/folder]]


[[folder:Literature]]
* No one wants to talk about AIDS in ''Literature/TellTheWolvesImHome'', although justified due to it being set in TheEighties.
* The following lines about being gassed from Wilfred Owen's WWI poem ''Dulce et decorum est'' were edited by many when first published, often just by removing the word cancer and leaving the poem with a ruined meter.
-->''Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,\\
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud''
* A 19th century French story where (mentioned in passing) an Englishwoman goes and deliberately gets infected so as to sleep with Napoleon and give him the disease. (It doesn't work.) The disease part is very quickly glossed over, but it's pretty obvious what it is they're talking about.
* Mildred in ''Literature/OfHumanBondage'' is strongly implied to be a prostitute and dies, almost certainly of syphilis.
* Digory's mother in ''Literature/TheMagiciansNephew'', until she is cured by a magic fruit. In RealLife, author C.S. Lewis' mother died of cancer when he was ten years old.
* ''The Pearl Diver'', by Jeff Talarigo, is a very thoughtful and in-depth discussion about how leprosy (and later AIDS) was this in Japan for ages. You didn't talk about it. If your family member caught leprosy, they got sent off to a different island, and were stricken from the record as if they'd died.
* At one point in ''The Tragedy of Y'' (by ElleryQueen), the York family doctor lets amateur detective Drury Lane read the family medical history, specifically all the parts that talk about the positive Wasserman tests. The book never uses the word "syphilis". Not even when Lane gets access to those medical files by proving to the doctor that he already knew the York children had been born with the disease.
* Discussed in ''Literature/TwoWeeksWithTheQueen''. Colin reflects on the fact that he's never heard anyone other than a doctor refer to his brother's condition as "cancer". When he meets Ted, he first warms to him when Ted openly refers to the disease by name, rather than shying away from it.
* In the second {{Flashman}} book, ''Royal Flash,'' a character is described as suffering from a "social disease." To which Flashman immediately responds, "You mean he's got the clap?"
* [[Literature/AChristmasCarol Tiny Tim's]] disease, to modern readers.
** Researchers say it was most likely a kidney problem or rickets.
* O-Lan in Pearl S. Buck's ''Literature/TheGoodEarth'' became sick later in the book. Her illness was never named, but she described it as "a fire in my vitals," which sounds like cancer.
* In the ''Trixie Belden'' series, Honey's governess, Miss Trask, had an ill sister. Miss Trask looked after her in the hospital when she was chaperoning the B.W.G.s and their friends in New York in ''Mystery of the Blinking Eye''. They never mentioned what the sister had, though.
* Skorpan in ''Literature/TheBrothersLionheart''. He died of tuberculosis but the disease is never named in the book.
* Subverted in LMMontgomery's novel ''Magic For Marigold,'' in a chapter called simply "It." "It" is a mysterious disease that the adults around Marigold suspect she has caught, but which no one will tell her what it actually ''is,'' driving the girl distracted with all sorts of horrible imaginings of what "It" might be. Until her aunt tells her that "It" is [[spoiler: simply head lice.]]
[[/folder]]

[[folder:Live-Action TV]]
* In a ''Series/MontyPythonsFlyingCircus'' animation sequence, we have an enchanted prince who gets a spot on his face, ignores it and dies of cancer, but the word "gangrene" was very obviously dubbed over "cancer" in a very different (as in, male as opposed to female) voice. It can be heard as intended in ''And Now for Something Completely Different''.
* ''GoodTimes'' was the first time STD (then called VD) was mentioned in a (US) fiction TV show, but they never really said what it was or how it was spread, just that JJ's ex had VD and he should get tested, along with {{Anvilicious}} speeches about VD (given the time frame, they almost certainly meant gonorrhea).
** During the final season, Willona wants to protect little Penny from the facts of life, suggesting to her adopted daughter that her 12-year-old pregnant friend had simply contracted the "Stomach Mumps." Terms related to teen pregnancy are freely exchanged between Wilnona and Florida, as the two bitterly argue about whether to tell Penny the truth (Willona is forced to when Penny is nearly [[DateRapeAverted sexually assaulted]] in the hallway).
* Another STD example on DrQuinnMedicineWoman, paired with GettingCrapPastTheRadar, seeing as how this was a family show airing at 8PM. In the series first episode, prostitute Myra comes to see Dr. Mike about a "female problem". Later, Dr. Mike tells Hank, owner of the local brothel, that Myra needs to be "chaste" for several weeks. When he complains about the loss of revenue, she warns him that he'll lose a lot more if she has to treat his customers as well. In a later episode, Hank asks why Dr. Mike has been oblivious to the fact that her sister Marjorie is ill--"That husband of hers left her with more that anyone suspects". Mike realizes what the problem is and gently tells her sister, "It's not your fault, he gave it to you", then offers to give her an injection of silver nitrate in order to clear up the infection. Given the treatment mentioned, it's obvious that Marjorie's unfaithful husband has given her gonorrhea.
* ''TheHoganFamily'': The first use of the word "condom" and what it's for on a (US) fiction TV show was in a VerySpecialEpisode during the series' second season (episode titled "Bad Timing," when Valerie told David to use a condom if he had sex with his girlfriend. The episode aired with a [[ContentWarnings content warning]].
** Unlike many other sitcoms, ''The Hogan Family'' also unashamedly addressed AIDS in one of the last episodes of the series, where David's best buddy Rich contracts AIDS. The episode shared Rich's last days and ends with his death.
* On ''HappyDays'' when Chachi asked for Mrs. Cunningham's blessing for he and Joanie to get married he said he "had to" marry her, so Mrs. C thought he and Joanie were "in trouble" -- that he had knocked her up. But no, he "had to" because he loved her so much.
* Non-disease example: on ''SexAndTheCity'', Charlotte mentions that her Jewish boyfriend has relatives who died in the Holocaust, a word she says at least 20 decibels lower than the rest of the sentence. She may have also done the same about Samantha's cancer.
* After Scott dumps [[Series/BuffyTheVampireSlayer Buffy]] Faith sees him with another girl. She gets a brainwave, goes up to him and claims the sexually transmitted diseases she got from him were clearing up, [[MomentKiller getting some]] measure of [[RevengeByProxy revenge]] for what he did to Buffy.
* A season 4 episode of ''TheGoldenGirls'' has Sophia volunteering at the hospital. One of her favorite people to visit with is a young boy who is a patient. She encourages him by telling him, "One day, they'll find a cure." Considering that it's 1988, it could have been AIDS, or it could have been cancer, with a comment about his blood getting messed up by a bad transfusion heavily implies the former (the story took place right at the same time as the [[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ryan_White Ryan White]] story.)
* There was a sketch in ''TheKidsInTheHall'' where Scott Thompson played a celebrity who denied rumors that he was gay. The narrorator claims that he kept denying the rumors up until the day he died of AIDS. The camera shows his body at the funeral and his corpse says out of the side of his mouth, "It was cancer."
* ''Series/OnlyFoolsAndHorses'': In "Sickness and Wealth," Del is worried that he might be suffering from a certain disease, and subsequent dialogue makes it obvious that he's talking about AIDS. The disease was still pretty taboo in 1989, hence why it isn't mentioned by name, but the episode shows quite a surprising degree of AIDS awareness, most notably the fact that it isn't--as was widely considered to be the case at the time--something that only gay men contract.
* On ''Revolution'' episode Captain Trips, Rachel is listing off diseases that the patients have other than the manufactured one they're all suffering from, and in a real sign of what's accepted in modern society versus what's still not, she says in a normal voice that two of them have Bipolar and Epilepsy, but whispers when she says that the third woman is an Alcoholic.
[[/folder]]

[[folder:Music]]
* Prince used "A big disease with a little name" to describe HIV/AIDS in ''Sign o' The Times''.
* Amateur Transplants hilariously parody the practice in their ''Dorsal Horn Concerto'' song.
* TLC's song "Waterfalls" features this. It's a series of morality plays, and the second one is about a man who sleeps around, and it gives us this gem:
-->His health is fadin and he doesn't know why
-->Three letters[[note]]HIV[[/note]] took him to his final resting place
* The American folk song "St. James Infirmary", and its British progenitor, "The Unfortunate Rake", never mention the illness that dooms the narrator and his sweetheart, but details in the lyrics provide a clue: mentions of "white salts" or "mercury pills" mean mercuric chloride, a 19th century remedy for syphilis.
** The real St. James Infirmary was a medieval leper hospital, and the song probably dates back that far (after 1536 the building was generally known as "St. James's ''Palace''"). This may be an example of one Disease That Shall Not Be Named substituting for an earlier one that had faded from memory.[[note]]A later American variant of the song, "The Streets of Laredo," eventually drops both the disease angle and all subtlety with the moralizing, making the sufferer into a murder victim by the hand of a jealous rival implied to be the woman's husband.[[/note]]
[[/folder]]

[[folder:Puppet Shows]]
* In ''Film/MeetTheFeebles'', the doctor ominously tells Harry he's caught "The Big One". This trope is averted when we find out near the end of the movie that he meant [[spoiler:myxomatosis]].
** Though, for a rabbit, [[spoiler:myxomatosis]] is a Big One indeed.
[[/folder]]

[[folder:Theater]]
* In ''CatOnAHotTinRoof'', the doctors never tell Big Daddy or his wife that he has cancer, telling them instead that he has a spastic colon.
* Creator/{{Henrik Ibsen}}'s ''Ghosts'' was incredibly controversial in its time merely for referring to congenital syphilis, even though the disease was never named outright.
** ''Theatre/ADollsHouse'' is similarly quiet on Dr. Rank's disease, and in ''HeddaGabler'' her pregnancy is never made explicit.
* ''AngelsInAmerica'' uses the aforementioned Roy Cohn inversion. Prior occasionally plays the trope straight by saying that he's "sick" and "diseased". While he is able to admit to his boyfriend what he has, he does fuss around before spitting it out.
* In NeilSimon's ''Brighton Beach Memoirs'', the mother mentioned that someone had tuberculosis, but said in in a quiet, hushed tone.
* In ''Passion'' by Creator/StephenSondheim & James Lapine, nobody, not even the doctor, explains what Fosca's disease is.
* In ''Theatre/DeadEnd'', Martin's ex-girlfriend Francey reveals she is "sick" when he tries to kiss her on the mouth. It is only hinted at that she was forced into prostitution and dying from syphilis. (The play does describe her as "an obvious whore of the lowest class"; for [[UsefulNotes/TheHaysCode obvious reasons]], this doesn't come across so clearly in the movie.)
[[/folder]]

[[folder:Video Games]]
* In ''VideoGame/{{Persona 4}}'', it's fairly clear that [[LoveHurts Hisano's]] husband suffered from dementia, largely through her story harshly averting EasyAmnesia.
[[/folder]]

[[folder:Western Animation]]
* In the {{WesternAnimation/Arthur}} episode "Grandpa Dave's Memory Album," it is shown that Arthur's grandfather is suffering from memory loss, but no disease (such as Alzheimer's, dementia or brain cancer) is mentioned.
[[/folder]]

[[folder:Real Life]]
* When Creator/TerryPratchett gave the 2010 Dimbleby Lecture, he mentioned that Richard Dimbleby (after whom the lectures are named) broke a taboo by admitting he was dying of cancer (almost invoking this trope by name). He went on to say that Alzheimer's and Dementia is now in the same category.
* When doctors diagnose a person with scabies, it is named with the technical name of scabiosis. Rather obvious in English, but not so in other languages (Spanish "sarna" vs. "escabiosis").
* Creator/IsaacAsimov contracted AIDS during heart surgery from tainted blood, but the stigma associated with the disease caused him to hide the condition throughout the rest of his life. When he died from AIDS-related complications, his cause of death was publicly given as kidney failure, and it wasn't until ten years later that his family revealed the truth in a biography.
** According to his wife Janet, Isaac Asimov wanted to go public during his lifetime but was persuaded not to by his doctors for the sake of his family and friends, as it was quite likely they would suffer from anti-AIDS prejudice that was prevalent at the time.
* Most newspaper obituaries will read that a person died "after a long illness," which usually means one of these.
* Speaking of newspapers, many horoscope columns now use the term "Moon Children" for those born from late June to late July, instead of Cancer. Aside from invoking this trope, it is even more ludicrous when you realize the disease was named after the crab (Latin name: cancer), because an untreated breast cancer can look like a crab.
* As mentioned above, head lice. Although it's not a sign of dirtyness or being low class, the sheer amount of work involved in eradicating the live lice from one's head and home (usually 2-7 days, and most of your day will be taken up with it), and removing the dead nits from the hair (at least two weeks), makes parents cringe when they hear somebody in their child's class has it. And most schools will not reveal who patient zero is, but simply send home the lice letter to everybody in the school, to avoid ostracizing the child.
[[/folder]]

!!Exceptions and Aversions

[[folder:Anime & Manga]]
* In Manga/BlackJack's back story, he broke this taboo to straightforwardly tell a fellow medical student she had ovarian cancer. Overall, Black Jack tends to be very blunt about the patient's chances.
[[/folder]]

[[folder:Films -- Live-Action]]
* Averted in ''The Shootist'', where JohnWayne's character is explicitly said to have cancer.
** This may have something to do with the fact that JohnWayne himself was dying of the disease -- this would be his last film.
* From ''TeamAmericaWorldPolice'', "Everyone has AIDS!!" (Which is a parody of ''Theatre/{{RENT}}'', discussed in the Theatre folder below.)
* Oddly inverted, [[TheyJustDidntCare along with just about everything else]], in ''TheRoom''. Lisa's mother says off-handidly that "The tests came back. I definitely have cancer." Setting it up as a possible plot point. However, it is never mentioned again and Lisa herself doesn't seem particularly affected by the news.
[[/folder]]

[[folder:Literature]]
* A female character in the Creator/AnthonyTrollope novel ''Doctor Thorne'' has been diagnosed with breast cancer. The condition is treated matter-of-factly, as it would have been in Trollope's time in RealLife. However, the idea that cancer was not shameful was so shocking to early 20th century readers that some believed Trollope instead meant to show the patient as [[HystericalWoman a pathetic malingerer]] who claimed to have cancer so she could get the doctor to feel her breasts.
* {{Rebecca}} was revealed to be dying of [[spoiler:a tumor in her ovaries]], which mean that she [[spoiler:couldn't have children]].
* Deliberately averted by NormanSpinrad in "Carcinoma Angels". The original publication in DangerousVisions was introduced with "This is a very funny story about cancer", and the writer's end note deliberately kept saying "cancer" in the course of railing against this trope.
[[/folder]]

[[folder:Live Action TV]]
* Spoofed when Tommy of ''RescueMe'' confesses to a fellow firefighter he thinks he caught the "big C" from a woman. He's quickly corrected that chlamydia is the "little c".
[[/folder]]

[[folder:Puppet Shows]]
* Refreshingly averted in the South African ''SesameStreet'', which features Kami, an HIV positive Muppet.
[[/folder]]

[[folder:Theater]]
* Averted in ''Theatre/{{RENT}}'', where characters that have AIDS are pretty frank about it. In the film version, however, Roger and Mimi recognize each others' affliction through the medication without mentioning the name of the disease - though it's still averted in the case of Angel and Collins, who speak about it frankly and by name.
* Eugene Brieux's problem play ''Damaged Goods'', though now forgotten, caused quite a stir in its time by referring to syphilis by name.
[[/folder]]

[[folder:Video Games]]
* Subverted in ''VideoGame/AdventureQuest''. [[spoiler:Alternate Ryuusei Cartwright]]'s ambiguous disease is revealed to be terminal cancer and that he had been SecretlyDying all along since he and [[spoiler:Gaiden]] had begun travelling between realities in search of his analogue.
[[/folder]]

[[folder:Western Animation]]
* Averted in ''WesternAnimation/SouthPark'' when Scott tells Terrence and Phillip that he hopes they both get cancer with special emphasis on "Can-saa!"
** AIDS especially is often joked about. With the episode "Jared Has Aides", it was noted that only ''South Park'' could do an episode that consists almost entirely of an AIDS pun and end up getting in trouble for [[AbusiveParents something else]].
** And then there's the episode where Cartman got AIDS:
--->'''Cartman:''' We're not just sure, we're HIV positive!
* The 1990 ''ComicStrip/{{Peanuts}}'' special ''[[WesternAnimation/WhyCharlieBrownWhy Why, Charlie Brown, Why?]]'' is about Linus befriending and helping a girl with leukemia. This made ''Peanuts'' be the first animated series to ever directly talk about cancer.
* As mentioned above ''WesternAnimation/{{Arthur}}'' played this trope straight once but they've also averted it, when one of the major side characters was diagnosed with cancer.
* Played with in an episode of ''WesternAnimation/AmericanDad'':
-->'''Neighbor:''' Well, my wife died. The Big C.\\
'''Francine:''' Cancer?\\
'''Neighbor:''' No, the big C from the Costco sign. Fell right on her.
[[/folder]]

[[folder:Real Life]]
* In the 1960s, Creator/JohnWayne went public with the fact that he'd had lung cancer -- and through surgery had "licked the Big C". He remained in remission for several years before developing stomach cancer; he died in 1979.
[[/folder]]

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