Dr. Goodword’s Language Blog


This past weekend I developed a condition in my left big toe (why don’t we have a special word for it, as we do for thumbs?). This condition involved swelling, a rise in temperature, and a pain as great as I have ever experienced.

The GoutThe odd thing about this odd joint pain is that it was as great when I and my toe were motionless as it when I walked with all my weight on it. It emerged early Sunday night when I was asleep and prevented any further sleep that night. Monday morning I went to the local clinic. The medical assistant who came in to check my temperature and blood pressure before the doctor arrived, looked at my toe and said, “It looks like gout.”
“Gout!??!” Surely you jest! Nobody gets gout any more. That was an almost jocular disease that attacked fat, lazy, rich people who overindulged in rich foods back in the 18th and 19th centuries (see illustration—that’s not me, by the way). You read about it in the novels of that period. Surely middle-class US-ers in the 21st (!) century don’t come down with the gout!

The attending physician came in, looked at the toe and said, “It looks like gout.” “How could I have gout?” I responded. “What causes it?”

“Animal organs, shellfish, and wine,” he replied.

That was the menu for my dinner Saturday night! At last I’ve reached the point where I can enjoy liver patê, lobster, and a glass or two of excellent wine. I have a meal like that once, maybe twice, rarely thrice a month. Now you tell me I have to pay and even greater price for the education of my palate than what the restaurant charged!?

“Gout is not that uncommon,” the doctor told me. “You are not the only person in the world able to afford good food.”

So, what is gout? He explained that uric acid as is normally found in urine, makes its way to the toe joint where it forms crystals in the joint of the big toe. (Are we sure there is not word for it like thumb?)

Wha-a-a-a-t!? What is the connection between urine and—of all the joints in the body—the big toe? Well, rarely other joints are affected. No, no, no! That is not my point. What is the uric acid-big toe connection? Well, researchers are working on that question. All they know is that hyperuricemia, too much uric acid in the bloodstream, leads to gout and gout naturally gravitates to the big toe. That is all we need to know since several drugs cure or control it: colchicine and corticosteroids like prednisone.

After two of the pills prescribed by the attending physician (my doctor was away on vacation), the symptoms vanished—even more quickly than they occurred. Now, I need to reduce my weight by a few pounds, continue my exercise routines, drink plenty of water every day, and avoid overindulging in shellfish, dried beans, anchovies, animal organs (foie gras, patê, haggis!), and drinking too much wine, at least, all at the same time.

5 Responses to “Gout?!”

  1. Sharlene MacLaren Says:

    As an author, and lover of the English language, I am always stumbling across new sites of particular interest. (I write historical, romantic fiction.) Just as I had one of my characters scream the word tarnation, I began to think of its origin–because my word processor kept telling me I needed to capitalize it. Huh? Come to find out, it is a song title–apparently–or the name of some rap group or something. At any rate, as my undiagnosed ADD often leads me to click on link after link after link, I happened upon your “AlphaDictionary” site – and then your blog.

    This one in particular made me giggle. Truly love your way with “words”. Aren’t words wonderful and lovely?

    I have now bookmarked your page, and I’m sure I’ll visit it often!

    Blessings on you, my friend…
    Shar MacLaren

    P.S. I’m thinking of a good word for the big toe. How about grum? It just seems to fit. Hope your gout isn’t giving your too much trouble.

  2. rbeard Says:


    As a writer, you should subscribe to our “Good Word” series and get a new word completely explained, along with spelling and pronunciation reminder, false friends to look out for, related words, etc. etc. including funny examples. Several years ago I had a creative writing teacher subscribed who would pick out one of my words and tell her students to read my examples and build a character description or short story on it.

    Also, if you are a fiction writer and set your work in earlier time periods, you would be interested in our HISTORICAL Dictionary of American Slang. It not only defines US slang and gives an example, but locates it in the decade in which it was used. A good way to check to see that your characters are staying within their era when they speak.

    I write, too. My first book, The 100 Funniest Words in English, will be followed by The 100 Most Beautiful Words in English (hopefully) by the end of this month.

    Alphadictionary is a good place for writers.

  3. Stargzer Says:

    Hallux Toeses

    Not bad breath or stinky feet;
    Hallux is the word you seek!

    It’s the medical term for the big toe, great toe, or thumb toe, as it is also called (I’ve never hear that last one before).

    From the Fount of All Wisdom:

    I, however, am one of the 10% of the world population with Morton’s toe, where the second toe is longer than the first, or big toe.

    I usually wash down my oysters, shrimp, and crabcakes with a good beer instead of wine. In general I eschew organ meats rathter than chew them. The only way I can stomach liver is as a paté with lots of garlic, and that’s only been a few rare times. A trifle of tripe in Philadelphia Pepper Pot Soup is as close as I come to organ meats.

    I had my thyroid removed recently, which, like me, was over-sized and under-active, but alas, they could not remove my Molsen goiter, that sign of Dunlop’s Disease, where one’s belly done lops over one’s belt.

  4. rbeard Says:

    I will tell my friend Morty where his big toe is. I’m sure he will be relieved.

  5. Stargzer Says:

    It toe-tally slipped my mind until now:

    Chacun à son goût!

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