• dyspnea •
disp-nee-ê • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun, mass (no plural)
Meaning: Difficult or labored breath, shortness of breath.
Notes: British speakers like to add an O after the N, spelling this word dyspnoea. Remember the [dis] sound of this word is the Greek dys- "bad, unfortunate, mis-", not Latin dis-. It means the opposite of eu- "good, fortunate", so the antonym of dyspnea is eupnea "easy breathing, normal respiration". The adjective for this noun is either dyspneal or dyspneic.
In Play: This word's haunt is usually medical vocabulary: "The pyrethroids used in insecticides can lead to a variety of ill effects, including tremors, dyspnea, and paralysis." But there's nothing hindering our bringing it out into the general vocabulary: "After drinking the concoction his wife had given him, Tommy Gunn felt dizzy and dyspneic. Then he dropped to the floor."
Word History: Today's Good Word comes from the Greek dyspnoia, comprising dys- "bad, unfortunate" + pnoie "breathing". We find dys- on many English words borrowed directly from Greek: dysentery, dysfunction, and dysrhythmia. Pnoie is the noun from pnein "to breathe" that we also see in pneumonia. Since it is associated with air, we are not surprised to find it in another Hellenic borrowing, pneumatic. Old English (OE) had a word based on pneu, fneosan "to sneeze". The ride from OE was too much for the initial FN cluster, so fneosan ended up in Modern English as sneeze. Fneosan suffered the same fate as OE fneran "to breathe heavily", which is sneer today. (Now a heartfelt thanks to newcomer Peter Barrow, who thought it worthwhile to rescue today's very Good Word from the medical vocabulary.)
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