kwashiorkor — say what?

Today’s post is by a guest blogger.   confusing_words_blog_post
He is Chris Nugent, a fellow member of Northern Colorado Writers.
His writing blog is

My favorite word is kwashiorkor. Klingon-cassava-what, you say? No, not some sort of exotic alien vegetable. Kwashiorkor. It’s a disease caused by a protein deficiency, most often found in third world countries. The word derives from the Ga language in Ghana, where it means, “the sickness the baby gets when the new baby arrives. I can’t decide which is the more clumsy to articulate — the definition or the word.

I’ll never forget my first exposure to kwashiorkor – the word, that is. It was in my seventh grade science class with Mr. DeJong. I was always confused because his written name looked Chinese, what with the “Jong” in it, but he pronounced it “DeYoung”, which sounded patently American to me. Turns out it was Dutch. I was thirteen – cut me some slack. Anywho, there, in the early afternoon under beams of golden sunlight falling through the window onto my desk, I would peruse the textbook filled with strange disease names. Mr. DeJong, unheeded, lectured while writing on the blackboard (in my day we still used such things), his back turned to the class.

Kwashiorkor leapt out at me like some sort of semantic joke. Surely they weren’t serious. Such a silly word. Who wrote this book? Are they making this up? Slouching over my desk with my chin in my palm, my mind drifted far from disease pathology into the realm of jumbled syllables, consonants and vowels. It was as if someone had poured whiskey into a pot of alphabet soup, and the drunken result lay passed out in a stupor before me. I suppose it was one of the first hints I would be good with words, or at least, intrigued by the stranger ones.

You gotta admit, if you’re going to pick a word to start dinner conversation with, there are worse ones out there.


2 responses to “kwashiorkor — say what?

  1. I’ve always been enamored with “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” ever since I saw the movie “Mary Poppins” however many years ago it’s been and no matter if it’s a real word or not. It sounds fun rolling off the tongue once you get it out of your mouth.

  2. Thanks, Deb. That is a fun word, and I too remember when the movie first came out. Some kids showed their mental prowess by learning to spell it.