• synonyms

petit mal

[pet-ee mahl, mal; French puh-tee mal]
See more synonyms on Thesaurus.com
noun Pathology.
  1. See under epilepsy.

Origin of petit mal

1870–75; < French: literally, small illness


noun Pathology.
  1. a disorder of the nervous system, characterized either by mild, episodic loss of attention or sleepiness (petit mal) or by severe convulsions with loss of consciousness (grand mal).

Origin of epilepsy

1570–80; < Late Latin epilēpsia < Greek epilēpsía epileptic seizure, equivalent to epílēpt(os) suffering from epilepsy (verbid of epilambánein to get hold of, attack; epi- epi- + lambánein to seize) + -ia -y3, with ti > si
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for petit mal

Historical Examples

  • On this chart we have the history of an epileptic man whose attacks were of the petit-mal type.

    Abstracts of Papers Read at the First International Eugenics Congress


British Dictionary definitions for petit mal


  1. a disorder of the central nervous system characterized by periodic loss of consciousness with or without convulsions. In some cases it is due to brain damage but in others the cause is unknownSee also grand mal, petit mal

Word Origin

C16: from Late Latin epilēpsia, from Greek, from epilambanein to attack, seize, from lambanein to take

petit mal

  1. a mild form of epilepsy characterized by periods of impairment or loss of consciousness for up to 30 secondsCompare grand mal

Word Origin

C19: French: little illness
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for petit mal



1570s, from Middle French epilepsie (16c.), from Late Latin epilepsia, from Greek epilepsia "seizure," from epi "upon" (see epi-) + lepsis "seizure," from leps-, future stem of lambanein "take hold of, grasp" (see analemma).

Earlier was epilencie (late 14c.), from Middle French epilence, with form influenced by pestilence. The native name was falling sickness.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

petit mal in Medicine


  1. Any of various neurological disorders characterized by sudden, recurring attacks of motor, sensory, or psychic malfunction with or without loss of consciousness or convulsive seizures.seizure disorder

petit mal

(pĕtē mäl, măl)
  1. A form of epilepsy, occurring most often in adolescents and children, characterized by frequent but transient lapses of consciousness and only rare spasms or falling.absence petit mal epilepsy
The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.

petit mal in Science


  1. Any of various neurological disorders characterized by recurrent seizures. Epilepsy is caused by abnormal electrical activity in the brain.
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary Copyright © 2011. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

petit mal in Culture



A disorder of the brain characterized by sudden, recurring attacks of abnormal brain function, often resulting in convulsions or seizures. The seizures associated with epilepsy can sometimes be controlled by medication.

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.