athlete's foot

fungous disease of the feet

Why is this common skin infection of the feet caused by fungus called athlete's foot?

Does it have to anything to do with athletes?

Did athletes use to get this disease ?

What is the origin?

  • 1
    The condition is contagious and can be transferred if people share the same flooring with others when they are all in bare feet. This usually happens in changing room conditions. So, yes, athletes are prone to get the infection and to pass it on to colleagues.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Dec 5, 2017 at 6:19
  • @NigelJ since you have effectively answered this, why not post it as an answer, rather than a comment. I'll certainly upvote if you do.
    – Spagirl
    Commented Dec 5, 2017 at 11:02

2 Answers 2


The earliest example I could find dates to 1928, when at least two newspapers published slightly different stories based on a press-release by Charles Pabst, chief dermatologist of the Greenpoint Hospital, Brooklyn. One of those articles explained:

Tinea tricophyton is a vegetable fungus found on the floors of swimming pools, bath houses and golf club locker rooms. So many golfers and athletes are afflicted with it that it has become known as "athlete's foot," Dr. Pabst said.

The Los Angeles Times, February 13, 1928, page 3.

"Tinea tricophyton" appears in medical literature as early as 1887. I did not do a full analysis, but in spot-checking a few examples, none of them focused on tinea tricophyton affecting feet, specifically. So I do not know when it became known as "athlete's foot," or what prompted it.

N-grams are useful for identifying trends or dates to look at, but they also pick up unrelated items where the word "athlete" and "foot" appear next to one another or nearby. There are many such examples in sports pages before 1928, which may be why the N-gram appears to start spiking earlier. Unless I've missed something, which wouldn't be the first time.

  • 1
    I think there are earlier usage instances, the following appears to be from 1912: Athlete's Foot is caused by parasitic micro-organisms. Left untreated, it can burrow under skin tissue, attack nerve endings, lead to disability. Severe case shown here requires doctor's care. books.google.co.uk/…
    – user 66974
    Commented Dec 6, 2017 at 0:30

Tinea pedis, as the infection is termed, is very contagious and does affect athletes as well as any others who share changing rooms. It is easily transferred among people sharing facilities who are walking barefoot.


The Ngram shows that the term 'athlete's foot' first came into common usage in 1925.

  • 1
    It's also likely to be made worse by wearing rubber soled athletic shoes.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Dec 5, 2017 at 13:38
  • And I think that athletes tend not to wear socks.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Dec 6, 2017 at 3:39

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