She's got "the" cancer ...

Two questions about r’rl speak.

  1. I’ve heard folks from rural parts of the United States, both Northern and Southern, refer to diseases and maladies by using the word “the” before the name of the disease. (Please excuse me for not knowing the correct linghuistic term for this; I wasn’t an English major.)

For example …

“He’s got the cancer!”
“She’s got the AIDS.”
“He done got the glaucoma.”

Why do rural Americans do this?

  1. Driving through the South and listening to AM radio stations, I’ve heard Bible’ thumping preachers talking about “when Jesus rizz up from the tomb” and begging their audiences to “rizz up and accept Christ!” What part of the South do people say “rizz” for “rise” or “rose?”

Argh! I’ve got the retardation.

Please move this to GQ.

Another example: “He plays the piano”

Moved from Comments on Staff Reports to General Questions…

That’s how I speak, in the very non-rural Bronx. Is it not standard English to say that someone plays the [instrument]? I’ve certainly heard the phrase both with and without the ‘the,’ but more commonly with it.

Yes, it is a Southern thing. They have many colorful and different ways of expressing themselves.

“Why, lookee here, if it ain’t trublmakr! Shit fire and save the matches! I ain’t seen you in a coon’s age! You wanna go to the house? Dja eat yet? Want to?”

Such is but one example of the many cultures and dialog in America. I love it.

Haven’t heard that one. But “rez” for “raise” is something heard 'bout evuhwur.

Simpsons quote time!

‘Standard’ English doesn’t use any article with named diseases “They’ve got X chicken pox” “She’s got X breast cancer” etc. but there is an indefinite article with non specific ailments “I’ve got a headache”, “He’s got a fever” even “She’s got a tumour”.

That said there seems to be a change with most people going for “I’ve got X stomach ache” rather than “a stomach ache”.

Stange to say tho’ my medical parents (retired) do sometimes say “She’s got the cancer” maybe because they are underlining the serious of the situation ?

Isn’t adding a definite ‘the’ in front of ailments not a way personifying the condition into a single, evil entity? It can therefore be regarded as a threat that both the speaker and listener have in common.

She’s got the cancer = it’s that nasty, ominous cancer thing again, we are all at risk from it!

She’s got a cancer = that’s too bad, but it’s her cancer, not something we need worry too much about.

She’s got cancer = she’s suffering, but it’s some wooly and indefinite medical concept that needn’t concern us much.

I think it was common in earlier written English to use ‘the’ before disease: the ague, the smallpox, the yellow fever. I often use ‘they’d all be dead of the cholera’ when referring to people who are ungrateful about the achievements of modern science and public health.

Sounds like somebody recently watched Forrest Gump. I’ve rarely heard people say “the cancer” IRL. However, it is common for people to say “the chickenpox”. Does that count?
It sounds normal when I say, my kids have the chickenpox. Or millions of people have died from the plague. What about the mumps, the measles, etc.?
Maybe I have a case of selective hearing.

The flu? The clap? The bends?

FWIW, different languages, and even different versions of the English language, use the definite article differently. (e.g. Wouldn’t a Brit be “in hospital” while an American would be “in the hospital”?)

I can offer no grammatical aide here except to mention that a favorite quote of my friends has become “I’ve heard good things about the crack.”

This quote works on several levels. Well perhaps “works” isn’t the proper term.

This reminds me of when I went to see “The Dead Zone” with a friend. There’s a part in the movie when the girl, played by Brooke Adams is feeling too ill to have her boyfriend (Christopher Walken) spend the night. Behind us was an African American couple who’d spent the whole movie talking and joking. During this scene, to crack up his girlfriend, he kept saying “she done got the AIDS ,” or “she don’t wanna give him the the AIDS” to which she’d giggle. My friend and I looked at each other, at first irritated, but then it got so silly we started to giggle ourselves. I felt a bit weird about it because I’m a gay guy and I should’ve felt morally indignant, but there was nothing I could do because it would’ve been difficult to move and I didn’t want to create a disturbance.

It did make me remember I’d heard some ethnic groups refer to diseases that way, as if whatever form of it you got, it was “THE AIDS” or “THE CANCER” which negated the need for details. Even in my own ethnic group, Filipino, among my relatives, I’d heard this. I don’t know if it’s a Southern thing, or perhaps just a casual use of the phrase in conversation.

That’s exactly it ! Even if people don’t rationalise it, that’s the impression they give !

As for “the 'flu” I’d assume the peron was, consciously or not, specifying 'the strain of ‘flu which is going around at the moment’.

Guilty, i should have said “Standard British” English :smack: Apologies.

Mind you they’re tricky little beasties these articles. Take your hospital example, for a Brit there is a difference in meaning if you use an article or not …

They’ve taken her to X hospital = she needs treatment
He’s gone to the hospital = to visit someone / to work etc.

It works the same way with places like school, university & church.

She goes to ** X** church every Sunday = to pray / take part in the service
She goes to the church every Sunday = to arrange the flowers / polish the silver / chat to the vicar

Is there anything like this in American ?

I had a high school math teacher who would refer to “The Calculus.” It was a Lettermanesque joke about usages like “The Cancer,” I think.

What drives me nuts is “pressure” or “the pressure” to mean high blood pressure; as in: “he has the pressure”.

I mean, if you don’t have blood pressure you are dead. It’s the high part that’s a problem.

Hmmm, even though it sounds funny, isn’t “the Calculus” technically the correct way to refer to that branch of math?

Interesting. I’ve just finished reading Angela’s Ashes, a biography of a young, poor, Catholic boy growing up in Ireland for those who don’t know. There were a lot of phrases like, “he’s got the consumption” or “look at him with the sour puss”. I had assumed it to be an Irish thing, perhaps that’s part of its origins in the USA.

I must say that I play the piano, though I don’t have the Cancer or the freckle face.