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Why is Gonorrhea Called “The Clap”?

Gonorrhea is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases in the world. And as much as science has taught us about the origins, symptoms, and treatment options surrounding gonorrhea, one looming question remains: Why is gonorrhea called “The Clap”?

Okay, we admit that’s not the most important issue surrounding the disease, but we’d be lying if we said we weren’t a little curious about it. And the truth is, we don’t know. In fact, nobody seems to know. The reason gonorrhea is called “The Clap” is truly one of life’s great mysteries. However, etymologists seem to have it narrowed down to one of three explanations.

Theory #1: It Was Derived From The World’s Oldest Profession

All things considered, this theory seems to be the most credible of the three. In this instance, “The Clap” is derived from the French word “clapier” meaning “rabbit huts”. And while we know how promiscuous rabbits tend to be, the term actually referred to French brothels; specifically small rooms within brothels in which prostitutes and their droves of horny Frenchmen…umm…completed their transactions, as it were. In the 1500s, “Les Clapiers” actually became the unofficial name of a famous brothel district in Paris and, given the relative lack of medicinal advancements at the time, it makes perfect sense that such a popular attraction might inspire its own off-color colloquialisms.

Theory #2: It Comes From A Traditional (Yet Fairly Unpleasant) English Term

Some believe that “The Clap” got its name from the old English word “clappan” which means “to beat” or “to throb.” You can probably see where this is going. Experts suggest that the slang came to be as somewhat of an all-too visual descriptor of the genital pain associated with gonorrhea. Those diagnosed with the disease–especially centuries ago–complained of burning and throbbing accompanied by unpleasant discharges, infections, and…well you get the picture. In short, while the explanation is a bit unrefined, this is not an entirely unbelievable explanation for the term.

Theory #3: Oh, Please Don’t Let It Be Theory #3!

If you’re at all squeamish, might we suggest stopping right here and just picking one of those first two. We wouldn’t blame you in the slightest if you did.

Still with us? Okay, don’t say we didn’t warn you. This third theory comes from a truly medieval at-home remedy for gonorrhea from way back when people had really bad ideas about at-home remedies for gonorrhea. Essentially, men would attempt to rid themselves of the pus and discharge caused by the disease by…*gulp*…aggressively clapping their hands on either side of their penises until the infection became forcibly expelled by way of the urethra. And if that didn’t work (it didn’t work, by the way) they’d try something a little more self-destructive involving a table or other waist-level hard surface, a heavy object like a book or boat paddle, and FREAKING NERVES OF STEEL!

That didn’t work either.

So there you have it; three (or maybe just two) possible explanations as to why gonorrhea is called “The Clap.” Now thankfully, treatment for gonorrhea has come a LONG way since the days of invasive and ineffective wooden paddle-smashing (seriously, do NOT try that at home). In fact, if it’s caught early enough, gonorrhea is 100 percent curable. Still, incidence rates are on the rise nationwide year after year and many people who carry the disease show no physical symptoms for quite some time. For these reasons, it’s best to get tested when appropriate. For more information on “The Clap,” or to learn how you can test yourself from the comfort and privacy of your own home, CLICK HERE