Irritable vowel syndrome

A Scott Hilburn cartoon on Pinterest this morning:


A pun on irritable bowel syndrome. The vowel letters I, A, and O are angry, throwing the letter L out of their club because he’s not a vowel. (The play on Get the hell out of here is a bonus.) Note that this is all about vowel letters, not vowels. (Depending on the dialect, speakers of English have a dozen or so distinct vowels, that is, vowel phonemes.)

This particular vowel/bowel pun has been much used (see below), and linguists have also been known to play with the Great Bowel Shift (or, better, the Great Bowel Movement) vs. the Great Vowel Shift (the change in the pronunciation of English long vowels between, roughly, 1400 and 1700, shifting [e:] to [i:], [i:] to [aj], and more).

One more cartoon (from a number). On the Fine Arts America site, “Irritable Vowel Syndrome”, a drawing by Paul Messing uploaded on 8/19/15:


Then there are postings under the heading “Irritable Vowel Syndrome”, like one from the Cranky Linguist (Ronald Kephart) on 10/21/11, expressing irritation at how thoroughly students have been taught to understand vowel as ‘vowel letter’, so that they say that boat has 2 vowels and English in general has 5 or 6.

Finally, there’s irritable bowel syndrome. From Wikipedia:

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a group of symptoms — including abdominal pain and changes in the pattern of bowel movements without any evidence of underlying damage. These symptoms occur over a long time, often years… IBS negatively affects quality of life and may result in missed school or work. Disorders such as anxiety, major depression, and chronic fatigue syndrome are common among people with IBS.

The causes of IBS are not clear.

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