My wife was working on her lines for a play (Dracula) set in the early 1900s and one line caught my eye. It referred to the desanguination of the vampire’s victims. I’d always heard the term as exsanguination and never heard of desangination. A few quick Google searches seem to indicate that desanguination is perhaps more archaic.

The questions are these:

  1. Is desanguination considered archaic? For how long? Which word would have most likely been used by a doctor (the character in the play) circa 1900?

  2. Are there any subtle differences in meaning between the two? If so, which seems more relevant to the results of a vampire attack?

How’s that for a topical question on Halloween week?


As your google search probably indicated, desanguination is used very, very rarely. Perhaps more strikingly, the OED doesn’t have a single reference to it, which suggests that it isn’t being used much historically, either. By contrast, the OED gives several citations for the word exsanguinate in the mid-1800s, so the word was certainly in use by 1900.


Could the difference be that, if one exsanguinates, their blood flows out of their body as a result of a wound; if one is a victim of desanguination, their blood is drawn out of their body and sucked in by another (the vampire)?

  • 3
    I thought I was the one asking the question. – JohnFx Oct 25 '10 at 17:54
  • 3
    This would be my thought, too: just based on the usual uses of "de-" vs. "ex-", the former implies an outside agent, while the latter does not. Or to put it another way, exsanguination us something that happens to a person, while desanguination is something that is done to a person. – Marthaª Oct 25 '10 at 18:17

Exsanguination is commonly used in the Emergency Medical field.


The word was used by the character "Howard Hunter" in the 2nd series episode 3 c1981, of the American TV police drama "Hill St Blues" To describe a shot man who was unable to be approached and given medical aid. So I guess that the word was actually describing the loss of blood.

  • 5
    Um, which word was used? – tchrist Aug 18 '14 at 17:55

01/03/2019: A Guardian article (online) notes Roman Britain, as understood from discovered Roman graffiti and worn or carried charms, had a propensity to reference widely the potent image of the male phallus. The article used the word 'desanguinating' for the action of Roman soldiers using short thrusting swords, as of poking, raping phalluses, in an act of desanguinating (disembowelling) the foe. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/feb/28/roman-britain-phalluses-hadrians-wall

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.