AskDefine | Define murrain

Dictionary Definition

murrain n : any plaguelike disease of domestic animals

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. any of several highly infectious diseases of cattle such as anthrax


Extensive Definition

Murrain () is a highly infectious disease of cattle and sheep. It literally means "disease" and was used in medieval times to represent just that. The population of that era had no way of identifying specific diseases in their livestock so they simply put all illnesses under one heading. There were major sheep and cattle murrains in Europe during the 14th century, which combined with the Little Ice Age resulted in widespread famine during the Great Famine of 1315-1317, weakening the population of Europe before the onset of the Black Death in 1348. [The Great Famine: Northern Europe in the Early Fourteenth Century by William Chester Jordan]
Murrain is also mentioned once in the Bible relating to the fifth plague brought upon Egypt.
The word in Hebrew is דֶּבֶר "deber" (Strong's # 01698), derived from the primitive root "dabar" in the sense of "to destroy".
Exodus 9:3: "Behold, the hand of the LORD is upon thy cattle which is in the field, upon the horses, upon the asses, upon the camels, upon the oxen, and upon the sheep: there shall be a very grievous murrain."
Pestilence, which is mentioned 47 time in 46 verses of the Bible, can be translated "murrain" [Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon]. see Psalms 91:3 KJV
In some parts of Scotland, force-fire was believed to cure it
In some remote regions of Cumbria, England, Murrain is still used as a term for a curse, specifically a curse placed upon land or livestock. It is believed that the Medieval term has, by a process of syncreticism become synonymous with witchcraft. This usage also inspired the ATV television play, Murrain, written by Nigel Kneale, which was broadcast on 27/7/1975 as part of the channel's 'Against The Crowd' drama strand.

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