I hear more and more people mispronouncing the name Alzheimer’s when talking about that horrible neurodegenerative disease.
Alzheimer’s Disease was named for Alois Alzheimer, a German psychiatrist and pathologist who first described the condition back in 1906. That may be a surprise: it was to me.
Most people weren’t aware of the disease by name until the 1980s. Appearing on The Merv Griffin Show just before his death, Orson Welles talked about his ex-wife Rita Hayworth, who had been diagnosed with the condition in 1980. He told Griffin he couldn’t believe reports of unusual behavior on Hayworth’s part in the 1970s that had rumored to be caused by drinking.
But Hayworth’s diagnosis helped bring public awareness about the condition.
And former President Ronald Reagan’s diagnosis after he left office only increased awareness about it.
Still, if you’ve lost a loved one to it as I have, it’s a condition you wish you never heard of.
What’s behind Alzheimer’s common mispronunciation?
It’s a pet peeve of mine. If you look at the word Alzheimer’s spelled out, one thing should be clear: nowhere does the letter T appear.
Yet when many people say the name, they replace the Z and H with that pesky T. What they end up saying is something along the line of “All-timers.”
There’s a chance it may have been the result of an eggcorn, a word (or non-word) that’s the result of a misunderstanding of spoken words. Those words may well have been “Old Timer’s Disease,” a reference to the fact that the disease mostly affected the elderly.
Back in 2015, Harold E. Cohen, editor-in-chief of Pharmacist.com, wrote that he and his friends referred to the illness that way, without realizing they “were making fun of a very grave illness that we have since come to know and respect as Alzheimer’s disease.” But Cohen and his friends weren’t the only ones to use the term.
In fact, there are plenty of people who’ve used it, without intending to create what seems like a tasteless pun.
It seems, however, that there’s enough confusion over the nickname that it affects the way people pronounce Alzheimer’s by forcing in a T that clearly doesn’t belong.
Hopefully, scientists will one day discover a cure that will make pronouncing the name unnecessary altogether.
That’s definitely something we all can wish for!