acute, highly contagious disease, 1510s, small pokkes, as distinguished from great pox "syphilis;" from small-pock "pustule caused by smallpox" (mid-15c.); see small (adj.) + pox. Compare French petite vérole. Fatal in a quarter to a third of unvaccinated cases, it could persist in clothes or other contaminated articles for months or years.
updated on January 19, 2023