Friday, June 06, 2008


I was talking to a senior citizen the other day when she used the phrase, “hidden aches and pains.” The context was an admonition that she had followed all her adult life: when you’re a mother, you take care of your family without moaning and complaining, even when you’re ill. It made me think of the hidden pain concealed in some words.

Alg- is a common stem used to convey the idea of pain. It comes from the Greek algos, pain. Something producing pain is algetic. Algolagnia is sexual satisfaction achieved through pain, the polar opposite of algophobia, which flees from pain no matter what the promised reward. Cardialgy was an old term for heart pain, cephalalgy was pain in the head, and gastralgia meant stomach pain. Perhaps we should start a campaign to start using pygalgia, pain in the buttocks.

The combining form -algesia, the ability to feel pain, shows up in words such as analgesia (loss of sensibility to pain), hypalgesia (diminished sensibility to pain), hyperalgesia (extreme sensitivity to pain), and paralgesia (disordered or diminished sensitivity to pain).

The word parts -dynia or odyno-, from the Greek odune, pain, showed up in gastrodynia (cousin to gastralgia), odynophagia (painful swallowing), pleurodynia (pain in the side), coccygodynia (pain in the coccyx), and otodynia (chronic ear pain), and proctodynia, actual cousin to the hypothetical pygalgia.

If you suffer from somatalgia (gratuitous pain in all parts of the body) , you’re probably a senior citizen, and it’s time for a full-body transplant.

SIDEBAR: Managing Chronic Pain

Now available from McFarland & Co.: Word Parts Dictionary, 2nd edition

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