Posted by: Bystander PJ23 FEB 2012
We all know the expression “seven-year itch”, referring to the notion that married men feel the urge to stray by the seventh year of wedded life. The expression dates from the early 19th century, but it only acquired its popular modern meaning with the success of the 1955 Billy Wilder film “The seven year itch”, starring Marilyn Monroe.
The movie was based on a 1952 stage play of the same name by George Axelrod. When the playwright borrowed the expression, the seven-year itch was one of many names used to describe scabies, an intensely itchy infection caused by a mite (Sarcoptes scabiei) that lays its eggs in burrows under the skin. The medical name comes from the Latin scabere, to scratch.
Scabies is rarely encountered nowadays, since it can easily be treated with acaricidal drugs such as permethrin and ivermectin. But before the first effective parasiticides came along it was hard to treat, and the story arose in North America that those who contracted the itch were stuck with it for seven years.
Many 19th century remedies fraudulently claimed to cure scabies, and the expression “seven-year itch” first appeared in an 1839 US advertisement for Dr Mason’s Indian Vegetable Panacea, which was promoted as a safe cure for a wide range of diseases, including “that corruption so commonly known to the western country as the scab or seven year itch”.
When asked how he had chosen his play’s title, Axelrod said that he had not been aware of any “marital wanderlust connotation” before he wrote the play. But as he struggled for a title, a line by a popular radio comedian was running through his head — “I know she’s over 21 because she’s had the seven-year itch four times!” In the play’s first draft the protagonist had been married for 10 years, but Axelrod shortened the period so that he could use a title with a natural ring to it.