The perplexity occurred as it has two meanings but if I read between the lines, they are contradictory to each other! (Let's not touch adjectives of this, they are even more confusing!)

valetudinarian (n; #1): a person who is or believes himself to be chronically sick; invalid

And the next meaning is...

valetudinarian (n; #2): a person excessively worried (anxious?) about the state of his health; [hypochondriac -omitting this as this is the medical term and being a healthcare provider, and though it's close, I feel it does not exactly represents our word in concern.].

Now, if Jack is too conscious, worried or anxious about his health, he's less likely to contract diseases. We often say, he's, though over, health conscious. On the other hand, the first meaning says that if you are a valetudinarian, you are chronically sick (one of the meanings).

If you worry too much for your health, it is actually to prevent valetudinarianism, isn't it?

How come a valetudinarian (#2) person can be a valetudinarian (#1).

  • 2
    It might be interesting to note that Wiktionary combines these two definitions.
    – Helix Quar
    Apr 18, 2014 at 11:35
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    Now, if Jack is too conscious, worried or anxious about his health, he's less likely to contract diseases. I thought stress could weaken the immune system. If Jack is concerned enough about his health that he takes concrete steps to avoid being sick (good diet, exercise, and sleep regimens, e.g.), then I would agree with you. But if Jack is "too conscious, worried or anxious about his health," that sounds like fretting to me, which I think would make Jack more likely to come down with something, not less likely.
    – J.R.
    Apr 18, 2014 at 11:53
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    I agree with JR. People who worry about their health generally have more health problems in my experience. There's a difference between taking care of your health and worrying about it; people who worry about their health are most often (not always, of course) people who don't take care of it. Looking at Americans: a lot of us are overweight, we eat because we worry, we worry about heart attacks, we eat because we worry...heart attack is the chief cause of death in America. We are perhaps a "valetudinarious" people. :)
    – BobRodes
    Apr 18, 2014 at 13:56
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    This question appears to be off-topic because it is about two extremely similar senses of one word. As OED puts it (in a single definition), A person in weak health, esp. one who is constantly concerned with his own ailments; an invalid. Apr 18, 2014 at 14:09
  • 2
    I've never heard or seen this word. “Hypochondriac” is the common term for someone who constantly thinks they are sick, and “chronically ill” describes someone who is actually sick all the time. It seems like a valetudinarian is a chronically ill hypochondriac, or by some definitions just a chronically ill person who is (understandably, I should think) focused on their own health. This word doesn't have much use these days (as you can see), so I would just avoid it. Apr 18, 2014 at 14:23

2 Answers 2


There's really no contradiction here.

Valetudinarian never means someone who is concerned to keep himself healthy; the word means someone who is concerned about his poor health.

And there are two sorts of people who are concerned about their poor health:

  • People who really are in poor health and have a rational concern about it, and

  • People who are not in poor health but think they are, and have an irrational concern about it—hypochondriacs.


Note that I write this answer without ever having heard about the word valetudinarian before.

I see two aspects to this. On the one hand, a person constantly worried about his health will notice the first signs of less-than-optimal health and diagnose them as an illness. Since there is no clear line, doctors might support that view, particular if the person can describe a large number of problems. So the core of this would be some leeway about when you consider someone actually ill.

On the other hand, there are such things as psychosomatic illnesses. So things the mind obsesses about can manifest themselves in a physical illness. This might be helped by e.g. strange and radical diets or other “cures” the person applies to himself, which might in fact cause real trouble instead of helping with imagined trouble.


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