Each year, 4.2 million people in this country are diagnosed with word allergies. Or maybe it’s eight hundred people. In either case, at an estimated annual cost of $1.6 billion in lost productivity, or maybe $67.50, this little-understood condition calls for increased awareness.
Known as WA, word allergies mostly afflict writers and musical people. But they’re not at all uncommon in those with obsessive-compulsive disorder.
To determine whether you might be suffering from WA, look for these signs:
- You are in a convenience store considering which chewing gum to purchase. You notice the word “sugarless” on one of the packages, and ask yourself, why are they saying it has less sugar, when they mean it has none at all? Or do they? Does it, or does it not, have some sugar in it? You find yourself unable to make a decision about any chewing gum. You leave the store empty-handed and cancel your next dental procedure, which has been touted as “painless.”
- You’ve dressed for a special event, shooting for elegant. When you arrive, a well-meaning acquaintance exclaims, “You look cute!” You muster a smile and a thank-you, but have now been triggered into full-blown Petite Woman Insignificance Complex. Grrr, cute is for baby ducks, you scowl to yourself, grabbing a rich hors d’oevre and wishing you’d worn higher heels.
- Your college kid is complaining of “senioritis.” You are sorely tempted to demand an explanation of his freshmanitis, sophomoritis and junioritis. Instead, you tell him that “senioritis” means “inflammation of the senior” and that he might consider a course of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. He tells you he’s done with courses of all kinds, thank you very much. You now know that your child (a) may have inherited your propensity to WA, and (b) has not applied to graduate school.
- You want to punctuate correctly, but find yourself unable to accept the current convention of indiscriminate hyphen removal. You cannot wrap your mind around words like “autoimmune” which look, let’s face it, wrong. Just in the last few months, you’ve received a request from your bank: “Please resign,” and a baffling note from a cousin: “I just resent your invitation.”
- At the checkout counter, you’re asked, “Debit or credit?” Debit means you owe something, and credit means you get something. Duhhh, why would anyone choose debit? “Credit,” you manage, with a minimum of condescension.
- You are reading a newspaper article about relationship fidelity that employs the colloquialism “cheating.” Cheating—yuck, you say to yourself, about the word, not the phenomenon. Is this what we’ve come to? We think of love as a quantity, a system that can be gamed? If you find yourself less interested in the heartbreaking topic than in the usage question, you may very well have WA.
Researchers believe WA arises out of a combination of genetic predisposition, environmental toxins and common crankiness. There is no cure, and treatments are few; patients must simply learn to manage their symptoms, one day at a time.
Ask your doctor.
Published in The Piedmont Post, May 19, 2010