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Jumping Frenchmen of Maine Disease

By Stuart M. Smith, MD and B. James McCallum, MD


Though it is not really associated with a vocation, it did occur initially among nineteenth century lumberjacks in Maine, and therefore is included in this top ten.

Originally described by G. M. Beard in 1878, Jumping Frenchman of Maine Disease is an exaggerated "startle" reflex. It was first noted among related French-Canadian lumberjacks in the Moosehead Lake area of Maine. Initially thought to be a neurological and even an inherited disorder, later researches now suspect the disorder to be psychological and brought on by the stressful conditions in the lumber camps.

The "Jumping Frenchmen" reacted abnormally to sudden stimuli and lost control of their behavior. One effect was that they would obey any commands given them. This is similar to a condition known as Latah, which affects adult women in Southeast Asia.

The interest sparked by the publication of Beard's article about Jumping Frenchmen inspired Georges Gilles de la Tourette to investigate what later became known as Tourette's syndrome - an inherited neurological disorder characterized by the presence of multiple motor tics and at least one vocal tic.


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26 May 2010
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