Diseases of the Eye

I came down with a case of conjunctivitis, which sounds like it ought to be a disease of language. In a logical world, conjunctivitis would be “an uncontrolled swelling of the connective tissue between words, phrases and clauses”.


“We can beat Ike Clanton’s gang at O.K. Corral,” Wyatt Earp told the sheriff, “BUT I’ll need you and your deputies to back me up”.

“But, but … that’s a mighty big BUT, Mr. Earp. “

“It is a big but, but I’ve got conjunctivitis so I can’t help it. My buts are huge and out of control. And so are my so’s. And my ands!”

Alas, conjunctivitis is not about inflamed conjunctions, or about language at all. It’s the official term for “Pink Eye”, which is a swelling of the tissue around the eyeball but even that seems inadequate. “Pink Eye” sounds too emotionally rich and secretly fun to be attached to such a dreary condition. It ought to be the way we describe a look of fierce flamboyance.


“I’m trying to keep my distance from Melvin. He’s got that feather boa out of its box, and he’s been giving me the Pink Eye all night.”

Other misnamed maladies:

Cowpox: You can get it from handling the udder of a cow, but if you are a typical urbanite, you’d be more likely to get it from cats or mice. If the infection gave you big brown eyes and made you look like a Holstein, maybe the name would fit. It doesn’t.

Hay Fever: Next time you start sneezing, check to see if there’s any hay around. And while you’re looking, where’s the fever?

Morning Sickness: If only it limited itself to one time of day.

Clearly these are maladies that were named by people who weren’t feeling well enough to be exact. And it doesn’t stop at illnesses. What about Iceland and Greenland? Literally and figuratively, let’s not even go there.

Nickels aren’t pure nickel. Eyeglasses contain no glass. Peanuts are beans. Shooting stars aren’t stars. Panama hats came from Ecuador. Freeways aren’t free.

Should we establish a commission to re-name every misleading thing?
If we did, what would we call it?

59 thoughts on “Diseases of the Eye”

  1. There clearly is a need-we park in the driveway and drive on the parkway!

    Maybe the Commission for Truth in Nomenclature?


  2. Dale, at this conJUNCTION I’d like to wish you and your eyes a speedy recovery. My boss is renownwed for milking every opportunity to take a day off. He took a week off from work (job without public contact or kids) when he had pink eye because it’s “serious in adults and you need to be careful.”


  3. Good morning All! Dale, uffda. Dream had pinkeye two years ago and i had to wrestle with her to put the antibiotic salve into her eye 4 times/day. who is doing that for you? long ago – i mean REALLY, REALLY, long ago – i had pinkeye and got to wear sunglasses in the house. do you have yours on?

    hmmmm. renaming commission. i look forward to the cleverness.
    carry on, kids


  4. naming it is a different story. the meaning vs the sound of the meaning is a great mindbender. thanks dale, i think the final word should come from the esteemed professors at whatsamatta u. they sort out this type of thing regularly at my house.


  5. Rise and Shine Babooners:

    I’m fighting a summer COLD this week that makes me hot and feverish. So who named it a cold? Maybe I’ll go back to bed and dream up a commission name.


    1. I, too have been dealing with a sore throat and fatigue for a week or so — which is really unusual for me. I don’t even get sick during the winter. Haven’t been keeping up with supplements and I’m having trouble sleeping — a bad combination like that can take me down, I guess.


  6. And can we have a subcommission on “verbing”. I know, I know, the English language is always evolving, but……


    1. Alas, I fear that one is a lost cause-and really, isn’t your use of “verbing” really a form of “verbing”?

      I find myself often agreeing with Steve in not really wanting to embrace technical precision in the English language (which would remove some if the poetical turns of phases-no coffee yet, so don’t ask for an example)-I worry more about the “flattening” of the language by loss of vocabulary.

      I admit, I grin every time I see the Eschew Obfuscation bumpersticker in Highland Park.


      1. I can’t watch U tube on my work computer due to a flash Player issue, but isn’t the character a cat? I forget his name.


      2. Snagglepuss! Thanks for the youtube, Sher–great fun!

        Snagglepuss is pink, Dale’s eye is pink… everything is relative.


  7. Dale, that was really good, as usual. Sorry about your “pink eye” and Jacque’s “summer cold”. Nothing worse then a summer cold. I’m just having my first cup of coffee from my “MS” mug, the “RH” mug was yesterday. I can’t think of anything, I’m still tired from mowing my weeds yesterday, almost looks like grass now. I’ll enjoy reading the other replies, though. Good morning everybody!


  8. Dale is being deep again today.

    There is a bird called a goatsucker, which is another name for the nighthawk. At one time it was thought that goatsuckers fed from goats at night. Well, they don’t. That silly mistake leaves us with a colorful, if errant, bird name. The English language is filled to overflowing with such comically inappropriate names.

    But shall we have a commission? That would reflect the dubious proposition that there should be a simple and reliably accurate connection between all things and their names. That is probably impossible, given how language is made, and undesirable anyway. The English language is a rich and confusing repository of errors, ironies, jokes and implausibilities. If we must have a commission, let it discover, catalog, advertise and celebrate all the wacko names like these. We can curse the crazy way names don’t match their correlatives, or we can lift a glass to toast the goofiness and complexity of the thing.

    My preference is clear. People who want to strip language of its “errors” and various complexities scare me. My toast: Here’s to the English language, Heartlanders. May it always amuse and confuse us with all its boo boos, silliness and lovable imprecision.


    1. It’s the very richness of our language that, I think, aids and abets its goofiness and foibles.

      I shall raise a glass as well. Cheers!


  9. Alas, such a commission has already convened, declared itself the Deciders, and toiled away for nearly a century, accomplishing such lofty and noble tasks as showing just why all poetry and all statements of value (statements such as “this is a lofty and noble goal”) are not just false but meaningless. As in, devoid of meaning. Pretty, perhaps, but, well, nonsensical.

    That particular commission was given the name Analytic Philosophy, and I am very glad to report that it has pretty much wrapped up its work and gone home to read some computer manuals, leaving the world again safe for metaphorical thinking, poetry, moral judgments, and expressions of delight.

    I must admit that the work of this commission still sometimes holds me in its thrall (who, after all, can resist a work entitled ON DENOTING? or that perennially appealing LANGUAGE, TRUTH AND LOGIC?), but then I read some haiku and I get over it. I’m with Steve; celebrate the “blooming, buzzing confusion” (and a tip o’ the nib to Wm. James for that glorious phrase).


    1. BTW, without the messiness of language, songs such as “For the Love of Willy-O” (a song I mentioned a couple days ago) would be impossible. Or at least not funny. Steve is right that the song I sought was one by Steve Sellors…but I can’t seem to wrest a recording artist out of Google. I ask here, because it’s a song I recall The Morning Show playing quite regularly back in the late eighties or early nineties. I think it was a solo woman.

      Now that I think of it, the song is about ambiguity all the way down; the young woman of the song goes to sea disguised as a young man, so as to find her “Willy-o,” but it turns out that the entire ship on which she takes transport is “manned” by young women disguised as men, looking for Willies (oh).


      1. At least that ship was not being “personed”. I have to confess that the neutering of language is not something I can embrace. I get that some people have issues surrounding this, but I find all the gender neutral stuff stubs my ears (the toes are just fine with it, however).


      2. The song I recall about the woman going to sea was by Sally Rogers – “When I Was a Fair Maid,” but I don’t think it’s the one you’re thinking of, is it? Her motive for going to sea didn’t have to do with anybody named Willy-O. She went to serve the Queen. And the other sailors in that song were all men.


    2. In the spirit of Been There, Renamed That!

      I am just back from my morning walk during which I worked this commission name over. George Carlin came to mind. He was one of the most dazzling wordsmiths I ever read or heard. Therefore I propose the following title:

      The George Carlin Memorial Dazzling Euphemism Commission

      It has everything — someone to remember fondly, pomposity, and no purpose what so ever.

      Now off to the showers and work to slay some dragons.


      1. Steven Wright could fill in for George Carlin if needed:

        If you saw a heat wave, would you wave back?
        It doesn’t make a difference what temperature a room is, it’s always room temperature.
        Cross country skiing is great if you live in a small country.
        I went to a general store but they wouldn’t let me buy anything specific.
        Officer, I know I was going faster than 55 mph, but I wasn’t going to be on the road for an hour.

        Dale — I bet you look darn handsome with an eye patch.


  10. I have a nice but irritating new age type friend who told me when i hurt my foot that it meant I was underStanding something that hurt me. When I had an eye infection she said it was my bodys way of saying “I hurt.”


  11. The state of ND has renamed the process by which state employees request time off as “Absence management” , perhaps to make our hearts grow fonder in regulated ways. I much preferred submitting a leave slip.


  12. I would name the commission Director of Goat Cheese Inspection. The commission’s first task would be to rename itself, because everyone I appointed would be more qualified than I.


  13. Ah, the Iceland/Greenland conundrum…I was happy to learn (what may be a mere myth) that the man who named Iceland did it intentionally so no one else would want to go there and the land would be all his. Now, Greenland…well, it was green when they named it, wasn’t it?

    But I’m way behind in this discussion…I’m with Sherrilee and Catherine on proposing a “verbing” commission…I’ll join in after upstanding from my desk.


    1. Cynthia – I have heard this same, possibly mythical, explanation for Greenland and Iceland. Maybe it was just Vikings naming things after to much aquavit.


    1. Thanks. Sherrilee…I was in Iceland for three days and fell in love with it. Then went on to find that the first Norwegian to settle there was from the same part of Norway as my ancestors…statues of Ingólfur Arnarson stand in Rejkavik and near Holmedal, Norway.
      And noted on the bing.com site that today is Iceland’s birthday — “Iceland formally became an independent republic on June 17, 1944, while Denmark was still occupied by Germany. Despite this, the Danish king, Christian X, sent a message of congratulations to the Icelandic people.”

      Time to go back out and mow down the “hayfield” I call a lawn before it rains again. Have a good day, y’all.


      1. Hayfield aka lawn mowed. Found this on wikipedia:
        “The first Scandinavian who deliberately sailed to Garðarshólmi was Flóki Vilgerðarson, also known as Hrafna-Flóki (Raven-Flóki). Flóki settled for one winter at Barðaströnd. It was a cold winter, and when he spotted some drift ice in the fjords he gave the island its current name, Ísland (Iceland).”


  14. I think one of Ellsworth Toohey’s dsciples would be an appropriate first director of the GCMDEC. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately!), George would most likely come back from the dead upon learning this, and launch a tirade of such wit and potency that we would all laugh ourselves to death. Which ain’t a bad way to go, considering the other options.

    Chris in Owatonna


  15. Sorry to bring up a sensitive issue Dale, but just think of all the euphemisms for losing your job. Would you rather be “let go” or “axed”? One implies kindness, the other slaughter.


  16. Ok I’m having a Barb in Blackhoof moment, listening to Under the Quarter Moon, trying not to weep at my computer. I don’t even have goats to distract me.

    Thanks, Mike.

    Sometime, Dale, I’d love a topic on malapropisms (not sure of the spelling here, which is ironic). My father’s wife is the queen of all things mispronounced at family gatherings.


  17. Fascinating sky tonight at sunset, blue on the horizon to the west, and above that gray blotches streaked with orange, and still higher, black masses of clouds with pink showing through, all moving to the east as if pulled along by the river current. The wind is coming up now. Hope I don’t lose my roof.


  18. Still here. Busy week for me, thank heavens it’s nearly over.

    In my house we disagree over “silverware” vs “cutlery”.

    Also, “plastic silverware”? What of “Gold plastic silverware”?


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