What is an historical example of Tourette syndrome (TS)?

Updated: May 30, 2019
  • Author: William C Robertson, Jr, MD; Chief Editor: Stephen L Nelson, Jr, MD, PhD, FAACPDM, FAAN, FAAP  more...
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A historical example of TS was provided by Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), the author of the first good English dictionary and the subject of Boswell's biography. [6, 7] Many of those who met him were surprised by his repetitive "nervous movements," and he often repeated word fragments or other sounds. His movements and sounds were suppressible, yet they were clearly not voluntary, as they were present even in situations that embarrassed him.

On one occasion, Johnson called his movement "involuntary," yet on another occasion, he called them a "bad habit." He touched objects in a stereotyped fashion, went through a complex ritual on passing through a doorway, and had excessive worries about his religious status and health. Additionally, he suffered from episodes of depression and ate, even in polite company, "like a wild animal." However, he was one of the great minds of his day, and he demonstrated remarkable persistence and clever wit in the face of his adversity.

Some of Johnson's contemporaries believed his odd behavior was a psychological disturbance, while others believed it was a variant of rheumatic chorea. Now, we would consider his symptoms typical of TS.

Go to Pediatric Tourette Syndrome for complete information on this topic.

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