sacroiliitis

Wow, holy what-is-that! This word looks like it’s slamming on the brakes in order not to hit a wall – or maybe just screaming in pain as it wrenches around a corner. In fact, there are so many vertical lines in the back half of this word, it looks like it’s already slammed up against the wall.

But of course that could also be hair standing on end. Or just an effort to straighten up a bent back – unsuccessful, it seems, as it reverts to s at the end. Whatever it is, it’s not natural to English eyes, because it’s not a natural English combination of i’s. Oh, we have other words with four i’s in sequence, but usually they have consonants between them. Double i’s are the real oddity. Think of English words with other vowels doubled: baa, bee, boo, and, uh, vacuum. But find me one with two i’s in the same syllable!

Well, when you do, it won’t be this one. These i’s may have you crying, but there’s no real love between them, either; between them, they have all three of the common pronunciations of i: [I] as in hit, [i] as in machine, and [aI] as in hi (and then it’s back to [I] again). The act of saying this word is like a funky workout for the tongue, sort of like one of those workout programs you see advertised on American infomercials – the ones that will probably do your joints in.

Joints! This word has two of them in it, holding together three morphemes of two syllables each: sacro, having to do with the sacrum, the bone at the bottom of the spine (and this is from the same Latin root that gives us sacred); ili, having to do with the ilium, the lowest part of the abdomen, and the top bony flanks of the hip; and itis, a Latinate suffix (originally from Greek) that means “swelling”. So you have the ili in the middle like your backbone, and these two wider bits joined to its sides. And when there’s swelling in those joints – the sacroiliac joints (that’s five syllables, by the way, sac-ro-i-li-ac) – it’s sacroiliitis.

Does that sound like a kind of arthritis? Yeah, it’s a symptom of several kinds of arthritic conditions, notably various spondylarthropathies, such as ankylosing spondylitis. It can also be caused by other things, such as a car accident. But I’m kinda wondering if it’s so sore just from carrying all these heavy words around.

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