debilitating disease that affects the skin, 1560s, noun use of adjective scurvy "covered with scabs, diseased with scurvy, scorbutic" (early 15c.), a variant of scurfy. By 1560s the adjective also could mean "vile, low, mean, vulgar." Related: Scurvied.
It took on the narrower meaning of Dutch scheurbuik, French scorbut "scurvy," in reference to the disease characterized by swollen and bleeding gums, prostration, etc., perhaps from Old Norse skyrbjugr, which is perhaps literally "a swelling (bjugr) from drinking sour milk (skyr) on long sea voyages;" but OED has alternative etymology of Middle Dutch or Middle Low German origin, as "disease that lacerates the belly," from schoren "to lacerate" + Middle Low German buk, Dutch buik "belly."
updated on March 13, 2022