Each week The Sun's John McIntyre presents a relatively obscure but evocative word with which you may not be familiar, another brick to add to the wall of your vocabulary. This week's word:
In sickness and in health, today's word comes from the Latin valere, "to be well."
A valetudinarian (pronounced val-uh-too-duh-NAR-ee-an) was originally considered to be simply a person in poor health, an invalid or someone sickly, weak, or infirm. In time the word came to be associated with hypochondria, so that now when you use the word, you will most likely be understood to be talking about someone who is constantly and anxiously concerned about his or her health.
One of the best-known valetudinarians in literature is Mr. Woodhouse in Jane Austen's Emma. Mr. Woodhouse was much disturbed at the thought of cake being served at a wedding: "His own stomach could bear nothing rich, and he could never believe other people to be different from himself. What was unwholesome to him, he regarded as unfit for any body; and he had, therefore, earnestly tried to dissuade them from having any wedding-cake at all, and when that proved vain, as earnestly tried to prevent any body's eating it. He had been at the pains of consulting Mr. Perry, the apothecary, on the subject. Mr. Perry was an intelligent, gentlemanlike man, whose frequent visits were one of the comforts of Mr. Woodhouse's life; and, upon being applied to, he could not but acknowledge (though it seemed rather against the bias of inclination,) that wedding-cake might certainly disagree with many—perhaps with most people, unless taken moderately. With such an opinion, in confirmation of his own, Mr. Woodhouse hoped to influence every visitor of the new-married pair; but still the cake was eaten; and there was no rest for his benevolent nerves till it was all gone.
Example: Philip R. Meadows, writing in the Christian Century in September 2003 about Roy Hattersley's biography of John Wesley: "It is also likely that Wesley was a hypochondriac and a valetudinarian who reveled in the self-absorption of ill health."