December 29, 2008


What’s in a Name: Celiac Disease

In my Internet reading I frequently come across the term “celiac’s.”  As in, “My mom has celiac’s.”  I understand how the mistake is made, but a mistake it is.  An apostrophe s has two possible meanings.  It can stand for the word “is” in a contraction in which case the above sentence would mean, “My mom has celiac is.”  Obviously that’s not right.

It can also be used to show possession.  “My mom has a disease belonging to celiac.”  That’s not right either.  Some diseases are named after people, such as Lou Gehrig’s disease.  In that case, Lou Gehrig actually had the disease so we could say that the disease belonged to him.

Celiac, however, is not a name.  It comes from the Latin word coeliacus meaning “of the bowels.”  Sometimes you will see the spelling “coeliac” which comes from the Latin spelling of the word and is used in Europe.  Celiac disease is a disease of the bowels not belonging to the bowels.  We say “heart disease” or “lung cancer”  not “heart’s disease” or “lung’s cancer.”  In the same way, celiac disease is like saying bowel disease.

I know it’s not all that important, but it’s one of those little things that bothers me every time I read it.  If you have celiac disease, or someone you love has it, I think it’s important to understand some basics, and what’s more basic than the meaning of the name?


Thanks for sharing this. While I can understand why people do it, it has been a pet peeve of mine for years.

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