ptosis

Ptosis? Ptui! When you spot it, what you want it to do is stop… but no staples or Post-Its will put a stop to ptosis.

Does this word seem perky, with its paired stops, voiceless and voiceless, appropriate for popping or pipping? If one posits such a link, one will be disappointed: it’s quite the opposite. Anyway, the sound of the p has dropped off – the Greeks may have said it (and not just here – another root you’ll know is pter, which drops the /p/ in pterodactyl but keeps it in helicopter), but we get floppy about such things in English.

And its meaning is likewise anything but perky. Greek ptosis meant “falling” or “fall”, from the verb piptein. And what is falling? Perhaps your eyelid – drooping eyelid is blepharoptosis, also called just ptosis. Or perhaps your breasts: breast ptosis is what happens to mammaries as Cooper’s ligaments relax with age (Betty Cooper’s? don’t be so arch). We assume there must be something in the line of butt ptosis as well (perhaps by another name).

It could be worse, though. Another word that comes from the same Greek root is ptomaine, which comes from ptoma, “fallen body” (i.e., “corpse”). And then there’s apoptosis, which is the “falling away” of cells in your body – more to the point, their death. Sounds apocalyptic? It happens all the time: old cells self-destruct to make way for new ones.

But if you have some incidence of ptosis, at least you have a nice, clean-sounding word to dress it up. I think it will be generally agreed that droop sounds rather droopy; so much nicer to have the toasty ptosis, even if the result is the same toast.

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