Today in our Nitty Gritty Grammar Lesson we will be looking at diseases and grammar. Before we go there, I’d like to share what a Nitty Gritty Grammar Lesson is.
Google’s online dictionary defines “Nitty Gritty” this way:
- the most important aspects or practical details of a subject or situation.
“let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of finding a job”
Beyond High School
It seems that by the time we are old enough to recognize the importance of good grammar and admit that our own grammar skills might be lacking, we are no longer in an academic setting where we can have the rules drilled into us. We also have limited time to spend learning these skills. And we certainly don’t want a bunch of rules thrown at us that we’re expected to memorize all at once.
This is where Nitty Gritty Grammar comes in. We will be looking at some basic grammar rules that we break time and time again.
Today we will be starting with a capitalization rule.
Question: Should you capitalize the names of diseases?
Answer: It depends.
Look at that! The first rule we explore and already the waters are getting muddy.
When we don’t capitalize the names of diseases
I run into this question all the time since I often write about health-related topics. Finally, I got down to the bottom of things while I was updating my book, Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer. In it, I recount the story of Anna, a woman with multiple sclerosis. Notice I didn’t capitalize that? It isn’t named after a person, so we don’t capitalize it. Ironically, the big “C” is actually a little “c” because cancer isn’t named after a person.
When do capitalize the names of diseases
When writing about Asperger’s, I do capitalize it, because it is named after Hans Asperger. The difference between the two is how the disease got its name.
When a disease is named after a person, we capitalize it just as we would the person’s name. We call these diseases “eponymously named diseases.” Eponymously named diseases are usually named after the physician who first identified the disease. Once in a while, they are named after a patient who suffered from the disease (such as Lou Gehrig’s disease).
This brings up another issue: possessive punctuation.
We punctuate Lou Gehrig’s disease with the possessive apostrophe s because Lou Gehrig had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Aicardi syndrome, however, is named after Jean Aicardi, the French pediatric neurologist and epileptologist who first recognized it as a distinct syndrome in 1965. Because Aicardi didn’t have the disease, himself, it doesn’t have the possessive apostrophe s. Even this “rule” is inconsistently applied, depending on where you are in the world.
We don’t capitalize diseases which aren’t named after people. Nor do we give them a possessive apostrophe s.
There you have it. Now you know whether or not to capitalize a disease and whether or not it gets an apostrophe S at the end. Even if the rules are still a bit murky, at least you know the thought process behind them.
What Are YOUR Thoughts?
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I am an author, writer, and speaker and homeschooling mom of 3. Since doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan with stage IV lung cancer in 2012, I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace. My books are available at Amazon.com:
I also blog about living with cancer at Facing Cancer with Grace.
 Wilbers, Stephen. “Top 10 Reasons You Should Learn to Use Proper Grammar.” Star Tribune, Star Tribune, 15 Nov. 2015, www.startribune.com/top-10-reasons-you-should-learn-to-use-proper-grammar/348141711/.