The Bizarro from 1/6/16:


(If you’re puzzled by the odd symbols in the cartoon — Dan Piraro says there are 2 in this strip — see this Page.)

But elephantitis would refer to an inflammation of the elephant. And elephantiasis is an actual (dreadful) disease. Maybe elephantosis would cover the condition depicted in the cartoon.

Three suffixes here.

itis ‘inflammatory disease’, with a base referring to the inflamed organ: appendicitis (appendix), arthritis (joints), bronchitis (bronchial tubes), colitis (colon), ,… So elephantitis would refer to an inflammation of the elephant (considered as a body part).

asis ‘disease, medical condition’. From Michael Quinion’s Affixes site:

most common examples are words describing diseases caused by an external parasite, frequently tropical or subtropical in origin. Despite its origin, … the ending is almost always –iasis, incorporating the linking vowel –i-.

candidiasis, infection with candida, a yeast-like parasitic fungus, especially when it causes oral or vaginal thrush; leishmaniasis, a tropical and subtropical disease caused by a parasitic protozoan (named after William Leishman, 1856-1926, a British pathologist); schistosomiasis, now more commonly called bilharzia or bilharziasis, a chronic disease caused by infestation with blood flukes; and elephantiasis [more fully, elephantiasis tropica], a condition in which a limb or other part of the body becomes grossly enlarged due to obstruction of the lymphatic vessels, typically by the filarial worms which also cause filariasis.

More extensive discussion in Wikipedia:

Elephantiasis is a symptom of a variety of diseases, where parts of a person’s body swell to massive proportions.

Some conditions that have this symptom include:

Elephantiasis nostras, due to longstanding chronic lymphangitis

Elephantiasis tropica or lymphatic filariasis, caused by a number of parasitic worms, particularly Wuchereria bancrofti. More than 120 million people, mostly in Africa and Southeast Asia, are affected.


elephantiasis tropica

Nonfilarial elephantiasis or podoconiosis, an immune disease affecting the lymph vessels

Elephantiasis, Grade 3 lymphedema which may occur in people with breast cancer

Genital elephantiasis, end result of lymphogranuloma venereum

Proteus syndrome, the genetic disorder of the so-called Elephant Man

osis ‘disease, diseased condition, pathological state’, with a base referring to something associated with the condition or state. From Michael Quinion’s Affixes site:

English words ending in –osis are commonly names for diseases, diseased conditions, or pathological states: neurosis [modern Latin neuro– ‘of nerves’]; tuberculosis [tubercule ‘a small nodular lesion in the lungs or other tissues’]; thrombosis [Greek thrombos ‘blood clot’]; nephrosis (Greek nephros, kidney), kidney disease; silicosis, a disease of the lung caused by inhaling dust containing silica.

So, for the patient in #1, elephantitis is inappropriate for the condition in question, and elephantiasis is taken for another condition, illustrated in #2. That leaves us with the all-purpose suffix –osis: elephantosis, here meaning something like ‘metamorphosis into an elephant’.

4 Responses to “elephantitis”

  1. Bigmacbear Says:

    Then there’s “elephantoplasty”, which is the subject of a Monty Python sketch regarding transplantation of an elephant’s trunk onto a person. This is of course a riff on “rhinoplasty”, plastic surgery on the nose, which itself is interesting because it confuses “rhino-” the combining form referring to the nose with “rhino-” as an abbreviation for “rhinoceros” — a name which refers to the horn (ceros) on the animal’s nose (rhino). The same sort of double entendre occurs with “hippo-” referring to horses and “hippo-” as abbreviation for “hippopotamus” (“river horse”).

  2. Bob Richmond Says:

    The medical usage -osis often means “all full of” – carcinomatosis is “all full of cancer” and tuberculosis is “all full of tubercles”. Renal pathologist Robert H. Heptinstall (one of my teachers in pathology) used to note that “nephrosis” (a term no longer in good use) must mean “all full of kidney”.

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