Google NGrams indicates that "rubella" has been more commonly used than "German measles" since approximately the end of the WWII, and that it isn't because people have used "liberty measles" instead.

Is it because "German measles" is regarded as offensive these days? (For what it's worth, Wikipedia states that it got its name from German doctors discovering it)

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    German measles isn't offensive to me (I'm medical.) I have absolutely never heard liberty measles (I'm not that old) though I have heard of liberty fries (instead of French fries). – anongoodnurse Oct 18 '14 at 4:08
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    @medica I haven't come across liberty fries; surely you mean Freedom Fries — a name that demonstrates that even redneck owners of Inner Banks diners can appreciate alliteration. – choster Oct 18 '14 at 5:44
  • @choster -D'oh! Freedom fries it was! Thanks! – anongoodnurse Oct 18 '14 at 5:45

I have never heard of "German Measles" being offensive. That was the common term used during my childhood, circa 1950s, to distinguish it from measles. (Those were called the "big red measles".) I recall that about 1969, when the vaccine against it became available, I started hearing the term "rubella" instead. "Rubella" became an even more common usage when the triple vaccine, MMR (Measles, Mumps, Rubella) was released, around 1972.

When a term for a nationality is considered offensive, it is usually paired with something bad that is not exclusive to them; for instance, French leave (military member absent without permission) and Dutch uncle (someone scolding, or speaking brusquely). That is, it is an offensive stereotype rather than a simple descriptor.

This is more in the nature of political commentary: when individuals come from a powerful nation, there is little position to be gained by their taking offense at the use of their name. In other words, oppressed does not usually modify German.

Would you have the same question regarding a common parasite hosted by children, the German roundworm?

  • EEWwweeeww! German roundworm? I have never heard of that! Though I am not offended, I am grossed out, which is fairly difficult to do. +1 for your very good answer. – anongoodnurse Oct 18 '14 at 5:49
  • @medica A google search for "German roundworm" didn't get any hits other than how to translate roundworm into German. Is it a hypothetical example? – Andrew Grimm Oct 18 '14 at 6:29
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    Not a hypothetical. It was a diagnosis, circa 1958, in poor neighborhoods in the southern states of the U.S.A, where children commonly walked barefoot, right up to the time of the frost. Perhaps it is now just "roundworm"? – Theresa Oct 18 '14 at 6:35
  • @Theresa - barefoot + south ~> hookworm. Roundworm is everywhere; we call it Ascaris/ascariasis. Eww. Hookworm larva comes through the skin; ascaris is fecal-oral route. – anongoodnurse Oct 18 '14 at 6:55

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