Mal de mer


What's the meaning of the phrase 'Mal de mer'?

Seasickness.

What's the origin of the phrase 'Mal de mer'?

Only the very luckiest amongst us will be unfamiliar with seasickness. The three dimensional freedom of a boat’s movement, as compared with the motion of land-bound vehicles, make this one of the worst forms of motion sickness, compounded by the sufferer’s knowledge that there is no escape when at sea and the misery is likely to last for some long time.

‘Mal de mer’ is French, of course, and came into the English language in the 18th century. John Adams referred to it in his Diary, in February 1778:

“The mal de mer seems to be merely the effect of agitation.”

The term had been in use in French for some time before that and is recorded with the ‘seasickness’ meaning by the late 16th century. It was also used in France to refer to another sickness of the sea, that is, ‘scurvy’, and, according to the OED, there’s a record of that usage dating from 1505.

Trend of mal de mer in printed material over time

Gary Martin is a writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.

Gary Martin

Writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.