I think this is a rather pretty word. It balances in the middle on that rakish funnel y, it has the chic and angular z, and it contrasts them at the sides with curls and just a little bit of straight line. It looks like it could be a name – a merging of Cory and Liza, perhaps. It’s a little crazy, strangely cozy, subtly racy. Spicy like a chorizo. It’s a word like a smart, sharp, small woman who wears careful but angular makeup, perhaps a piercing or tattoo – or perhaps the sweet-tartness comes entirely from a wicked wit.

Whatever it is, though, she has a cold. A runny nose. Hope she doesn’t have a nose ring; that would be uncomfortable when you have coryza.

Yeah, this word falls into the category of nice words for unpleasant things. Sorry. The common cold has a couple of those – the other is the mellifluous, or anyway something-fluous, rhinorrhea, so soft and pleasing, though admittedly with an echo of the unpleasant-meaning diarrhea.

If you want a less charming word for the common cold, use catarrh. Both words come to us from Greek via Latin; catarrh is a clipping of the Greek for ‘downward flow’ (that rrh is the same as in rhinorrhea and diarrhea, but the ea flowed away). Coryza is from the Greek κόρυζα, which a modern Anglophone might more likely transliterate as koruza (that letter υ is a little problematic due to historical sound changes; in modern Greek it’s pronounced “ee” and in Biblical times more like German ü). In the Greek it meant ‘runny nose’ (or, as some dictionaries put it, ‘running at the nose’, which technically isn’t exactly the same object, but in looser usage will come to be applied to the same condition).

You can, if you wish, insist on a distinction between coryza and catarrh – I mean aside from the feelings of the words themselves: to quote from the medieval Regimen sanitatis Salernitanum,

Si fluat ad pectus, dicatur rheuma catarrhus:
Ad fauces bronchus: ad nares esto coryza.

Which is to say, if the flow is in the chest, it’s catarrh; if in the nose, it’s coryza.

One more thing: because the word came from Latin into English by the 1600s, the y is pronounced as in “why.” So while you may want to say “co-ree-za,” to be correct to the established English standard you should say “co-rye-za” (with the o probably reduced to a schwa).

Having a cold is unpleasant. You want to get rid of it as soon as possible; drink lots of liquids and get lots of rest. But while you have it, you can at least – if you want – call it by a more chic, more erudite, name: “I am indisposed by a touch of coryza.”

2 responses to “coryza

  1. Daniel E. Trujillo Medina.

    James: You have managed to get a laugh out of me with this post. I will never come down with a cold again, human as I am.

    Daniel E. Trujillo M. @VolcadoDePila ________________________________

  2. Spiciness of coryza aside, as i read this I kept hearing a refrain from P.D.Q. Bach’s “Iphigenia In Brooklyn”:

    “…and he cried out in anguish: ‘Oh ye gods, who knows what it is to be running? Only he who is running knows’.”

    Aria: “Running knows, running knows, running knows.”

    As featured on “An Evening With P.D.Q. Bach (1807-1742)?”, (LP 1965)

    Lyrics here:

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