Most of us, when we hear the word "distemper," think of an infectious disease that afflicts dogs. Canine distemper is caused by an unidentified virus that manifests in lethargy, fever, excessive discharge of mucus in the nose & throat, intolerance of light, and vomiting.
But, if you happen to pay a visit to the Ocracoke Health Clinic, you may hear an older island native in the waiting area comment that he or she is there to see the doctor for distemper. Knowing the local doctor is not a veterinarian, you finally figure out that the person sitting next to you is talking about his/her own illness.
"Distemper" is an eighteenth century word that simply meant any illness or disease. While the definition of the word has been narrowed today to refer almost exclusively to an illness afflicting dogs (and sometimes cats and horses), a few old-time Ocracokers still use the word in its older, more general sense.
Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is an article by island resident, Crystal
Canterbury, about her very first visit to Portsmouth Village, on the
last day of 2014. You can read Part I here: http://www.villagecraftsmen.com/news042115.htm.