VIRUS Latin for snake venom, slimy liquid, poison

VIRUS Latin for snake venom, slimy liquid, poison

Query: old definition of virus .. was it defined as “snake venom” or anything similar involving venom and/or snake?

The term “virus” indeed has historical roots linked to venom and poison. Originally, the word “virus” is derived from the Latin word meaning “poison” or “slimy liquid.” In ancient times and through the Middle Ages, it was used to describe various toxic substances, including snake venom.

VIRUS Latin for snake venom

Historical Definitions of “Virus”:

  1. Ancient and Medieval Usage:
  • Latin Origin: The word “virus” in Latin referred to poison or venom, often in the context of snake venom. It did not have the specific biological connotation it has today.
  • General Use: Throughout history, up until the 19th century, “virus” was a term broadly used to describe any noxious substance that could cause disease or harm.
  1. 19th Century:
  • Shift in Meaning: During the 19th century, with the advent of the germ theory of disease, the term began to shift in meaning. Scientists started to distinguish between various types of pathogens, including bacteria and viruses, even though viruses themselves had not yet been observed directly.
  • Scientific Context: “Virus” began to be used more specifically to describe infectious agents that were not bacteria but could still cause disease. This was based on their behavior and the fact that they passed through filters that bacteria could not, leading to the concept of “filterable viruses.”
  1. Early 20th Century:
  • Scientific Definition: By the early 20th century, the term “virus” came to be associated specifically with these filterable agents. Scientists like Martinus Beijerinck and Dmitri Ivanovsky played pivotal roles in this redefinition through their work on tobacco mosaic virus.
  • Defining Characteristics: It became clear that viruses were distinct from other pathogens due to their inability to replicate outside of a host cell, their simple structure, and their small size.


While the modern definition of a virus as a microscopic infectious agent dependent on host cells for replication solidified in the early 20th century, the term “virus” historically did indeed have connections to venom and toxic substances, reflecting its roots in the Latin word for poison.

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