A new symbol for epilepsy in Chinese

The Chinese character for epilepsy has been changed to avoid the inaccuracies and stigma associated with the previous label which suggested links to madness and, more unusually, animals.

The new name, which looks like this just makes reference to the brain although the story of how the original name got its meaning is quite fascinating in itself.

The following text is from an article in the medical journal Epilepsia which announced the change:

If you’re wondering where the bit about the ‘bizarre movements of goats’ came I suspect it’s from a type of fainting goat that looks like it has seizures and falls over. You can see them ‘in action’ in this YouTube video.

However, the link is mistaken as the goats do not have seizures. The effect is caused by their muscles locking up, independently of their brain, by a condition called myotonia congenita.

Link to ‘Announcement of a new Chinese name for epilepsy’ (via @cmaer)


  1. Posted April 24, 2012 at 9:29 pm | Permalink

    Isnt the graphic Japanese?

    • Posted April 25, 2012 at 6:49 am | Permalink

      Japanese and Chinese both make use of the same characters. Chinese is written entirely with these characters, whilst they form one part of the Japanese writing system. They’re pronounced differently in the two languages, but have the same meaning (usually).

      • michael
        Posted April 25, 2012 at 8:33 pm | Permalink

        i think kevin meant that hokusai was a japanese artist.

      • Posted April 26, 2012 at 12:35 am | Permalink

        Ah my bad, sorry!

  2. Posted April 25, 2012 at 5:17 am | Permalink

    I’m not sure how much the new name helps, as it still contains 癇, which has the meanings of both “epilepsy” and “insanity”.

    The characters for the new term are literally “brain epilepsy disease” – the first and last seem fairly redundant.

    Also, I wish they’d use the UTF-8 text characters (癲癇 and 脑癇症) in articles, rather than inserting images. There are so many advantages to plain text.

    • John
      Posted April 29, 2012 at 6:52 pm | Permalink

      Hugh, do you really think that you know better than doctors who are native speakers of Chinese? (And FYI, only the very top students in Hong Kong can enter medical school, unlike in western countries.)

      The new name helps because it eliminates use of the character 癲. In Hong Kong slang this character roughly translates to “mental”, as in “Are you f***ing mental?” 癇 is a medical word and is only used in medical settings. As for your second sentence, please learn Chinese to native speaker level before you comment.

  3. Posted April 30, 2012 at 2:06 am | Permalink

    Of course I don’t think I know better than native speaking doctors. I wasn’t criticising the choice or suggesting they change it based on my knowledge of Chinese, which as you say isn’t native level at all.

    I was just making an observation about the content of the words, which I find is a useful thing to do as a language learner. After this I’m sure I won’t forget the two terms :)

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