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Is the term "plague" overused?

There is going to be a horrible disease but I'm not sure how I want to identify it. If someone sees a bunch of dead bodies piled up on a cart and asks, "what happened here?" Someone would respond with "Plague." But I can't help but feel that that term is overused especially in fantasy/medieval works. But I'm not sure what to call it. I think it would sound odd if they called it an epidemic or something like that. Perhaps I could give it an actual name? The reason there is a disease is because demons are running rampant burning down entire forests andpolluting the air with smog and foul magic.


If the disease is known in your world, meaning it has existed for awhile and symptoms are understood, you could give a specific name.

If unknown, call it a plague. That would be a general term that the people would use.
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Felis amatus
Yeah, you could give it a name. Calling it a plague is no more overused than calling an apple and apple (or calling something 'fruit' if you're using a more general term as the analogy). That's the name for it.


One naming technique you could use would be to give it a name based on a characteristic of the disease. This works well if you try to find a name that evokes a squeamish response in people. For example, in my story, I have a disease called the 'shingles' by common folk, because of a skin lesion the disease causes on the victims.


For example, in my story, I have a disease called the 'shingles' by common folk, because of a skin lesion the disease causes on the victims.

That is a real disease actually, a derivative of the herpes virus that spreads across areas of flesh. I believe it can be treated with modern medicine, but it would have been devastating had it happened before the 1950s.


I wouldn't name a disease specifically "the plague" but I use plague colloquially for any ongoing epidemic, is this incorrect?
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Its not incorrect. Plague and epidemic could both be used, but what I meant by my suggestion was that once you've made it clear in the readers mind that whatever you'd decided to call your disease is a plague/epidemic, you'll be able to use the name of the disease instead of those words in a lot of cases. The benefit of using the common name over a word like the plague is that readers will associate the name of the disease with the specific characteristics you've described, whereas using the word plague might bring to mind a more general or vague idea of a disease. In the example you used in your first post, the people could respond with the common name for the disease. Even if your characters haven't heard of the disease before, you could easily turn that in a way for the people to give more details about it.
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Absolutely It can be called a plague. It doesn't even have to be a disease to be called a plague. Ever read the book of Exodus? The ten 'plagues' on the Egyptians are translated plagues, even though none of them are really diseases.


Closed Account
The Plague is a name for a real disease and is overused (unless you're writing historic fiction), try to be a little more imaginative. Don't give your disease a proper or formal name unless doctors, et al are discussing it, colloquialisms are more personal and will help suspend your readers' disbelief. The general population would use a range of nicknames based on their fears (the black death, the great pestilence), their prejudices (the Gypsy, the wandering Jew), or symptoms (the blue sickness, yellow jack). Have fun with it.

By the way, the examples of disease nicknames I've given are historical.
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Shaun b.

If you want your story to involve the 'Plague' then call it the plague, just as Steerpike said earlier. It does give send an image to the reader about what the illness is. For me the word makes me think of the black death, boils, sallow-greasy skin. If however its an illness that is sweeping the land and is something quite new, you are still able to call it a plague, people will associate the fact that an illness is culling the population with a plague.

You could also call it something new, your world may not have any association with a plague or you just might not like the image that tags along with it. You could call it the culling, the harvest, a wind..anything really that gives the sort of image you're trying to portray. Is it a very quick acting disease? if it is, perhaps it could be called the quickening - That gives a brief glimpse into what the people of your world may associate the illness with. A disease with the symptoms of violent shakes? the tumbling. Millions of possibilites.


Also, here is the dictionary definantion of Plague
1. a deadly contagious disease spreading rapidly over a wide area.
2. an unusual infestation of a pest, etc
3. a a great trouble b and affliction, esp. as regarded as divine punishment
4. A nuisance

Your example actually seems to fit all four.


I think how important the disease is in your story could also affect your choice of terms. If its not going to take a central role, plague would probably work well. If its going to be an important aspect of the book, though, I think it'd be better to go with your created name.


Personally I'd try to come up with a local colloquial name for it. Locals would no doubt have given it a name based on symptoms or perhaps some element of belief regarding how it's caught. For instance is there an animal they associate with it because the first person to die was (say) a farm worker? Or because of the appearance of the dying? Pausing to think up a believable name (nothing too twee, nothing that reeks of Naming–a catchy name that may have spread as contagiously as plague itself) may add colour to your story.

Just my thoughts,
Plague, while being a disease, is named thus because it tends to plague people. As in, "the land was plagued by a terrible disease." So, I'd say it's actually a pretty appropriate and useful word.
Alexandra brought up a good point. I'm not going to have knights saying, "be careful you don't catch Hypomoxia Fluenza." (I just made that up off the top of my head) I think it would be good to have people give it a less scientific name. The disease makes the victim's skin turn dark with black spots and slowly decay so I'm thinking about naming it the Black Rot.
I'd say you would use plague (or a nickname) to describe it and the name if there was any question of which plague it was or when scholars were discussing it. In my first novel there is a terrible plague called the Sanguine Pestilence (named 'cuz one of the symptoms is to cause all of the water in your body to turn to blood and can be easily diagnosed in advanced stages by bloody eyes/tears/saliva/sweat. Other symptoms include: inflammation of veins, madness, fatigue, death, melting of organs, hemophilia, inability to channel magick, fever, vomiting, itching, and cold sweats).

Just think of today when people get sick. They usually just say they're sick. They may say they have the flu or one of the symptoms (such as a fever), and they rarely say they have influenza.


Queen of Titania
You can call it Plague if you want, but considering that it's a disease in a Fantasy world, I think that the best solution would be to come up with some original and scary-sounding name for this sickness.

I have a magical sickness that is part of my second Fantasy series:

It was a magical weapon that was accidentally released, quickly spreading over the world and wiping out the entire population in a matter of weeks... It killed even the Mages that were governing that world, leaving only one survivor that became a Queen without anyone to rule.

The sickness was called the Fever of Vlyahsz after the name of the city where the first cases appeared, and the aftermath of this devastation is crucial for the plot of that series.

There is a little Fantasy story by Allan Poe called The Masque of the Red Death about a devastating sickness called the Red Death, so it's okay to invent some scary Fantasy name for the sickness of your world.


I may have misunderstood this. While you certainly can call it a plague I wouldn't call it The Plague. It is a plague, but that shouldn't be it's name