Articles of Disease


At the risk of sounding like a Jerry Seinfeld parody, have you ever wondered why certain articles are used with certain diseases?

To be clear, I am using the grammatical form of “article”, not the newspaper form. For those of you who forgot the parts of a sentence, an article is “used with a noun to indicate the type of reference being made by the noun”. (Wikipedia, Article_(grammar)) Yes, I’m talking about the words “a”, “an”, “the”, and sometimes “some”.

Why is it that one person might have “a” cold, another might have “the” flu, and a third might have cancer (no article at all)? Are diseases characterized differently by type as far as the English language is concerned?

I’ll be looking for an answer, but I have none to give today. Do you know?


3 thoughts on “Articles of Disease

  1. I’ve also heard “the croup” and “the gout” though never from a medical professional. Perhaps there are many forms of colds or cancer and only one set of very specific pathogens for the ones that use “the” in front? Though the itching on my foot is from a very specific pathogen and yet I have “athlete’s foot” not “the athlete’s foot.” And I am not even an thlete. Yet another curiousity.

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