acromegaly

This is a nice, long word for a not-so-nice condition of length. And look at it: the letters start at the normal size, but then grow outside the lines at the end. The word seems brutish, especially with the overtones of mug and ugly, and one might be led to imagine perhaps some Cro-Magnon hominid.

Now, if we decompose it into parts, we may or may not come to an accurate conclusion as to its meaning. Mega is a popular morpheme these days, and an increasingly unbound one; since huge can be turned to hugely, can mega to megaly be far off – “He megaly kicked your butt”? And acro is well enough known: acrobat, acrophobia. Gotta do with heights, right? So if he kicked your butt halfway to heaven, he acromegaly kicked your butt, right?

Uh, no. For one thing, the ly is not the adverbial ly. The Greek root of megaly has a combining form megal, and that became megalie in French for a noun, and thence to English megaly. And the acro actually isn’t referring specifically to height; it’s not from akros, which means “the highest, the most extreme”, but from akron, which just means “extremity” (it can also mean “at the top”, which is why they named a city in Ohio after it – though you may as soon find yourself in extremis there as singing “You’re the Top,” and though it’s the seat of Summit County, it’s not especially elevated). Acromegaly is a medical condition in which your extremities – hands, legs, fingers, toes, nose, chin – overgrow.

Well, yes, your body does tend to overgrow, too. Acromegaly is almost always caused by a pituitary adenoma – a non-cancerous tumour on the pituitary gland that causes it to ovesecrete growth hormone. (Acromegaly is basically the same as gigantism, except that its onset is after puberty rather than before.) So people with acromegaly manifest it not only by overgrowth of these extremities but by, well, extreme overgrowth. Height over 2 metres is quite common. Do you remember the character Jaws in the James Bond movies The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker? The actor who played him, 7’1.5″ Richard Kiel, has acromegaly. So does famous motivational speaker and writer Tony Robbins.

So if being tall is so impressive (just as being long makes a word impressive), is acromegaly a bad thing? Yes, not only because being too tall is more of a disadvantage in many ways, but because acromegaly brings with it a host of complications. The famous wrestler André the Giant died of cardiac complications of acromegaly at age 46. Fortunately, it is treatable – not reversible per se, but the overproduction of growth hormone can be stopped.


Elaine Phillips saw this word and it grew on her, so she suggested I taste it.

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