Friday, January 6, 2017

"Parkie", an Improper Noun?

Parkie. It's a word that slides easily off the tongue , then catches in the craw. Some of us use it freely. Others loathe it. Why?

A fellow PD patient recently made the case against "parkie" in a post on Facebook. Her argument was that the term trivializes PD. Here is how it was put in the post: "I can not think of one other illness, disease or condition that is referred to by a cute nickname. Parkinson's is not a club I wanted to join. I was abducted into it."

Can we think of another disease that gets similar treatment?   "Leukies" for leukemia victims? "Leppies" for those with leprosy? "Lupies" for those with Lupus? "Crohnies" for people with Crohn's?

And yet, "parkies" is used regularly in the community of those with the disease.  I have always felt a bit wary of the term, though I used it in the company of allies from the PD world. Looking at the list above, I wonder what came over me. My cronies must have thought I was loopy. I can't imagine calling someone with leprosy a "Leppie", there is an air of condescension about it, an unearned intimacy.

But there is a bit of confusion here. The objection above is to referring to an "illness, disease or condition... by a cute nickname." "Parkie" does not refer to the disease, it refers to a person with the disease. And here, context matters.  Used between two people with Parkinson's disease "parkie" is a diminutive that functions a little like the word "namasaste", only instead of the spark within me recognizing the spark within you, it's the pain in me that recognizes the pain within you, my fellow person with Parkinson's. What could be more ruefully human than that?

This also explains why it falls so wrong on the ear when used by someone who doesn't have the disease, or who isn't an active caregiver. Such a person hasn't earned the right to the intimacy of the diminutive, so for them to use it does indeed trivialize PD.

But, parkie-to-parkie, I am glad to have  people around to share the misery. PD forces us to give up so much."Parkie" is the rare case where we get to do something nobody else can.


Unknown said...

I know only one person who uses this nickname. Funny, every time he says it, I wince. Yet, I've never said anything because he's had the disease longer than me. If somebody used the name who didn't suffer from the disease, it would sound trite and perhaps even lacking in respect to both the disease and to me. We don't give our enemies cute nicknames. I'm David. It's Goliath. I go out and fight him every single day. In the end, he is likely to win, but that doesn't keep me from slinging stones at him every chance I get.

Unknown said...

I agree. Well said.
From a fellow parkie.

Unknown said...

Thank you for sorting this out for us, Peter. As a Parkie, I agree. None of us mean to minimize our miserable disease with a (silly) word, but a little levity can be bonding and can be good medicine. And, when I've called myself a "Parkie" to someone without PD, I've watched the worry lines on their face disappear for a moment, and they smile. That's worth something, too, unless we want our friends and acquaintances to be in a perpetual state of feeling sorry for us.

Peter Dunlap-Shohl said...

Thanks all, for your comments. I got about halfway through writing this post, and suddenly had blogger's remorse. Was this really worth the time it was taking to think this through? Judging from what you wrote and comments I have seen elsewhere, I'm surprised to say it was. This word truly arouses some people. The lesson for a blogger is a heartening one: Words matter.

Patient-Online said...

Hi Peter, I have thought of this often. I think you hit on it. It can be said with endearment and often is within our P.D. community in Inland California. The rub seems to be when some speak of others, and seem to be trivializing the condition as something that "doesn't kill you" and "you just need to exercise more," it makes one want to say, "Please don't call me that."

I believe a patient should be free to use it in reference to his/herself and when speaking of a friend they know is comfortable with it in reference to their disease struggle. A medical professional should not use it in treating a patient, and the spouse of another patient should not use it as a generalization in speaking of P.D. sufferers in general.

A patient who writes to inform others about Parkinson's, or another who is sharing orally in a support group meeting, should be examples of an acceptable use of the term. Some are more sensitive than others. I know some patients who hate this reference and several others that have no problem with it whatsoever.

I find that the word "patients" works well in place of this word when it is a sensitive atmosphere.

Just my thoughts. Thanks for raising this, my friend. Dan

Anonymous said...

You asked if another disease or disorder gets similar treatment by using a nickname for its sufferers. Autism and Asperger's are great examples of this. Their sufferers are referred to as "auties" and "aspies", respectively. I have Asperger's, and as far as I know these terms aren't controversial or seen as insulting to sufferers of autism spectrum disorders.