When the homeowner described her ant problem as a plague, the exterminator thought she was being a bit melodramatic. After all, a few bugs aren't exactly a huge calamity.

Centuries ago, if you had admitted to a friend that you had the plague, that friend would have hightailed it in the other direction. In the Middle Ages, the plague was a horribly contagious illness that spread like wildfire through Europe, killing millions of people. Thanks to the introduction of better hygiene and antibiotics, plague doesn't describe a killer disease as often these days. Instead, it commonly overstates an annoyance, like an apartment dweller claiming his building is plagued by cockroaches.

Definitions of plague
  1. noun
    any large-scale calamity (especially when thought to be sent by God)
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    type of:
    calamity, cataclysm, catastrophe, disaster, tragedy
    an event resulting in great loss and misfortune
  2. noun
    any epidemic disease with a high death rate
    synonyms: pest, pestilence
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    type of:
    epidemic disease
    any infectious disease that develops and spreads rapidly to many people
  3. noun
    a serious (sometimes fatal) infection of rodents caused by Yersinia pestis and accidentally transmitted to humans by the bite of a flea that has bitten an infected animal
    synonyms: pest, pestilence, pestis
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    bubonic plague, glandular plague, pestis bubonica
    the most common form of the plague in humans; characterized by chills, prostration, delirium and the formation of buboes in the armpits and groin; does not spread from person to person
    plague pneumonia, pneumonic plague, pulmonic plague
    a rapidly progressive and frequently fatal form of the plague that can spread through the air from person to person; characterized by lung involvement with chill, bloody expectoration and high fever
    septicemic plague
    an especially dangerous and generally fatal form of the plague in which infecting organisms invade the bloodstream; does not spread from person to person
    ambulant plague, ambulatory plague, pestis ambulans
    a mild form of bubonic plague
    Black Death, Black Plague
    the epidemic form of bubonic plague experienced during the Middle Ages when it killed nearly half the people of western Europe
    type of:
    epidemic disease
    any infectious disease that develops and spreads rapidly to many people
  4. noun
    a swarm of insects that attack plants
    “a plague of grasshoppers”
    synonyms: infestation
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    type of:
    cloud, swarm
    a group of many things in the air or on the ground
  5. verb
    cause to suffer a blight
    synonyms: blight
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    type of:
    afflict, smite
    cause physical pain or suffering in
  6. noun
    an annoyance
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    type of:
    annoyance, bother, botheration, infliction, pain, pain in the ass, pain in the neck
    something or someone that causes trouble; a source of unhappiness
  7. verb
    annoy continually or chronically
    synonyms: beset, chevvy, chevy, chivvy, chivy, harass, harry, hassle, molest, provoke
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    goad, needle
    goad or provoke, as by constant criticism
    bedevil, crucify, dun, frustrate, rag, torment
    treat cruelly
    harass by imposing humiliating or painful tasks, as in military institutions
    drive up the wall; get on someone's nerves
    make ineffective or powerless
    badger, beleaguer, bug, pester, tease
    annoy persistently
    oppress, persecute
    cause to suffer
    type of:
    annoy, bother, chafe, devil, get at, get to, gravel, irritate, nark, nettle, rag, rile, vex
    cause annoyance in; disturb, especially by minor irritations
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