Printable Version
Pronunciation: ru-mee Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective

Meaning: Having a runny nose and/or runny eyes.

Notes: Well, it is still that season in North America when we meet people with rheumy eyes and noses. If you would like to impress them with your vocabulary, refer to their noses as rheumy rather than runny. It also avoids that silly answer to the question, "Is your nose running?" Rheum is the watery discharge from the nose and eyes and is not as thick as mucus, which you have to blow out. Rheum gets out on its own. I suppose someone could sniff rheumily and even speak of their rheuminess.

In Play: Rheuminess is the cause of the sniffles rather than a full-blown (so to speak) head cold: "The Alaskan cruise was beautiful, but we all returned home a bit run-down and rheumy." We might even expand the range of situations we describe with today's Good Word: "Our cruise liner was roomy but rheumy: half the crew and passengers were sniffling the entire trip."

Word History: The family history of this word is so fascinating we can only skim the surface here. It comes from Greek rheuma "flowing, stream" from rhein "to flow". This word comes from an earlier word with an initial S (sreu- "flow"). Early Indo-European languages didn't like the combination SR and most eliminated it. Greek dropped the S while English added a T, leading to today's stream. Evidence of the Greek word pervades English vocabulary. That is it referring to flows in diarrhea and logorrhea. It also seems to have promoted the Greek word for nose, as in the name of the animal with the nose-horn, the rhinoceros. (We thank Dr. Margie Sved for suggesting today's Good Word, with our best wishes that she will successfully avoid any rheuminess this season.)

Dr. Goodword,

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