I was looking for a Japanese word for the germ theory of disease. I found an article in the Japanese Wikipedia that uses the word 細菌説{さいきんせつ} for what essentially is the germ theory. Is it the correct word or there is some other alternative?

1 Answer 1


「細菌説」 seems to be a fair choice, but there are alternatives. Here's what I gathered:

  • 「細菌説」
    • English-Japanese medical dictionary[1]
    • Encyclopedia of pharmaceutical history[2], in describing Pasteur.
  • 「(疾患)病原菌論」
    • Japan medical terminology[3] from the Japanese Association of Medical Sciences.
  • 「微生物起因説」
    • Igaku-Shoin's medical dictionary[4], in the article of Pasteur
  • 「微生物説」
    • 医科細菌学[5] (medical bacteriology)
  • 「媒菌説]
    • An English-Japanese dictionary of medical science[6]

Note that, although the germ theory is often referred to as the 細菌説細菌 does not really correspond to germ.

As far as understand, germ in this context is basically an informal synonym of pathogen == something that causes disease. This corresponds to 病原体, while 細菌 is more specific word for bacteria. Related terms include

  • 微生物 (micro-living) : microbes.
  • 病原体 (illness-source/cause-thing) : Sounds formal and technical. germ / pathogen.
  • ばい菌 : informal, non-technical, plain word for "those living things that reproduce and cause illness" or "that thing you want to remove by washing hands to avoid desease". Probably closest to germ.
  • 細菌 : bacteria. (Although sometimes misused for much broader sense)
  • 菌 : very vague word for fungi (not in the context of cuisine) + bacteria + yeast + etc.

1: "医学用語大辞典". 日外アソシエーツ, 1989.

2: "薬学史事典". 日本薬史学会 編. 薬事日報社, 2016.

3: "日本医学会医学用語辞典". 南山堂, 2007.

4: "医学書院医学大辞典". 医学書院, 2009.

5: "医科細菌学". 笹川 千尋. 南江堂, 2008.

6: "医学英和辞典". 研究社, 2009.

  • Thank you so much for such an elaborate answer. I especially appreciate your list of related words with explanations.
    – Olga
    Commented Nov 9, 2017 at 2:09

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