English is a pretty bizarre language. Maybe all languages have certain nonsensical aspects. I admit, my linguistic skills are rather limited. I can ask for “beer” and “toilet” in five or six languages and I’ve managed to stay unlost on many visits to countries whose inhabitants speak little or no English. Even with my own native language, I refer to my friend Maeve Maddox, who writes at www.dailywritingtips.com, for proper usage. But even Dr. Maddox has written a piece on misnomers—those pesky inappropriate or misleading names that litter our language.
Consider the guinea pig. It is neither a pig nor from Guinea. How about the ‘four elements’? You won’t find fire, air, earth or water on the periodic table. Gothic architecture doesn’t have anything to do with the ancient people known as the Goths, nor do wearers of black fingernail polish and black clothing studded with metal one occasionally sees in Hot Topic.
My current torment is ‘ringworm’. Literally. It is an affliction of the skin in the shape of a ring. It is very contagious and can easily be acquired from lovely little kittens some heartless scumbag dumped at my house.
The “ring” part of the ill-named scourge is the only thing accurate in its name. There is no “worm” involved; it’s a fungus in the same family as jock itch and athletes foot, tinea.
I suppose it might be humbling to admit to having jock itch, but as long as the sufferer remains somewhat dressed, the crusty rash can be kept secret. But admit to having “ringworm” and the people around you visibly shudder as they give you more space, imagining a detestable burrowing parasite living mouth-to-tail under your skin.
Really, what could be more gross?
So why do highly educated doctors and scientists continue to use the misnomer? Is it a snide joke? Is it some social comment? THEY obviously have never admitted to suffering ringworm or they’d campaign their fellow disease-namers to whip up another label post haste.
The itchy symptoms of ringworm are bad enough, but the confession is much, much worse. Socially and psychologically damning, in fact. Bad enough to conjure a fever blister, which has nothing at all to do with fever.
Be gentle, my friends, when what you thought might be a very small hickey on your buddy’s neck is actually ringworm. She was almost certainly busily attempting to save a tiny part of the world by snuggling with a purring ball of unwanted, fungus ridden fur.