I posted this in response to a query on the American Dialect Society mailing list (ADS-L), and am cross-posting it here because it is more relevant here than there. Someone had asked about a strange Chinglish translation: smallpox for 天花灯 (tiānhuādēng). The answer to that is easy enough, and James Harbeck answered it there: the same characters are used for ceiling (天花板) and smallpox (天花). Another poster, Douglas G. Wilson, then asked the more difficult question of why they are so named.
As I was looking for something else in some Manchu-related materials I serendipitously found the answer to this question. Continue reading Smallpox