Opinions regarding the etymologic origin of the word "dengue" diverge considerably. According to some learned investigations, the word is of old Arabic origin, and signifies "asthenia" (Vambery), while others derive it from the East African word "dinga," or from the Indian "dangue"; both expressions signify "blow," and perhaps are intended to designate the sudden onset of the disease. Probably, however, the word is of Spanish origin, and of similar significance to the contemporaneous expression, "dandy fever." ("Dengue," prudishness, affectation; "denguero," affected; affected, "dandy like.") Both expressions describe the peculiar tortuous, affected gait which the patients adopt in consequence of the pain and motor disturbances in the knees and ankles. The same symptoms are referred to in the names "polka fever" (Brazil), "pantomime fever" (English colonies). From these pains in the knee joints and bones dengue gets the names "broken wing," "breakbone fever" (America), "knockelkoorts," ankle fever (Dutch colonies), "abou abous," "abou rekabe," knee pain, "pere des genoux," "des massues" (Arabia, Syria, Egypt, Tripoli). On account of the great and protracted weakness which follows the disease it was called in Philadelphia "break heart fever"; while, on account of its mildness, it obtained the name "la piadosa," "the mild," in Spain. The expression "trancaze" points to the sudden "apoplectiform" beginning of the disease. On account of the accompanying exanthem dengue received the designations: "Fievre rouge" (Syria), "calentura roja," "rosalia," "Colorado," "giraffe," "bouquet "(viz., mottled). Its regular occurrence at the time of the date harvest gave it the name of "tlate fever" in Port Said and Arabia. Very characteristic is the name of "three day fever" formerly in use in India.

All these expressions are not the result merely of a play of words, and they point to very significant and especially to historically important characteristics of the disease.