This word names a condition that makes it difficult to say this word.

OK, sure, fine, most people find it difficult to say this word, especially at first while your eyes and mind are still untangling it. Really, it’s like last year’s strands of Christmas lights pulled out of the closet, isn’t it? But once you pull apart the bits, you can string it out and trip it off your tongue. Here are the parts, all from Greek: δυς dus ‘bad’; διάδοχος diadokhos ‘succeeding, alternating’ (from διά dia ‘through’ plus δοχή dokhé ‘receptacle’); κίνησις kinésis ‘movement’; with the ia ending that we use to indicate a state. So dys, dia, docho, kinesia. Almost looks like a magic spell, doesn’t it?

Well, if it is, it’s an evil one. Dysdiadochokinesia is difficulty making repeating movements, such as tapping a foot, finger, or tongue tip. If you have it, when you try to say something such as “da da da” you vary the pronunciation and/or say it with excess volume and/or don’t move your tongue and mouth as one normally would in doing so. There are quite a few conditions that can cause dysdiadochokinesia, involving lesions on the cerebellum or frontal lobe or other nervous system damage (as in multiple sclerosis and Friedreich’s ataxia).

So, clearly, this word would be a challenge: /dɪs daɪ ə dɒ ko kɪ ni ʒə/. It taps the tongue tip three times in rapid succession – one on the stressed beat of each of the first three metrical feet – (/d sd d/), then the back of the tongue twice – both on off-beats, so faster – (/k k/), then two more different sounds with the tip (/n ʒ/). It does, admittedly, have an admirable alternation of vowels; between the consonants it makes a bit of a tour of the mouth. But the consonants beat like a drumstick, or the repeating note in flamenco guitar, as for instance in “Asturias” by Isaac Albeniz. Which dysdiadochokinesia – or any of several other kinds of dyskinesia – would render prohibitively difficult to play.

Of course, flamenco guitar is prohibitively difficult for most people anyway, because they haven’t developed the skill. Just like reading dysdiadochokinesia isn’t going to be easy for anyone on first try. (Man to doctor before surgery on his hands: “Will I be able to play the piano?” Doctor: “Oh, yes, not to worry.” Man: “That’s fantastic! I’ve never been able to play the piano before.”) The difference with this disorder is that it makes it difficult even if you know how and would otherwise be able to do it. Even the common abbreviation – DDK – would present a little challenge. How cruelly ironic.

Thanks to docsterx, commenting on my post on sputum, for suggesting this word and a few others I may yet get to.

4 responses to “dysdiadochokinesia

  1. Wow. Didn’t expect this tongue twister to make the word menu so quickly. Though I did think the beat of the word (sounds like Native Americans thumping on a war drum) might bring you to the dance at home point. Good explanation of some neurological nastiness. Thanks.

    Then there are also encephalopathialituraturum (brain damage that is brought on by over excessive study of the coursework in medical school.) Or this one, supposedly the longest word in the English language: pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis. Then there’s one that might make the Volume II of “Songs of Love and Grammar.” It’s CCPAI –
    chronic cephaloproctoautointussusception. The person has stuffed his head so far up his *ss that he can clearly see his tonsils. Examples include one former Canadian mayor, and just a few right-wing politicians south of the Canadian border.

    Have fun!

  2. Pingback: How to write dirty tongue-twisters – Strong Language

  3. Awesome blog! I love etymology and grammar what-not. I’ll check back often 🙂

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