A delightful bit of YouTube japery (40 seconds): “Wilford Brimley goes head-to-head with an actual endocrinologist to determine the proper pronunciation of diabetes.” Also, Brimley tweets about it: “Ellie, no. I am the ‘diabeetus’ guy.”


  1. O God, it is so totally diabetuhs. My cousin said diabeeteees for the first twenty years I had it and it used to creep me out (a bit like that other British broken-up pronunciation Home-o-SEX-yule). I think he gave up in the end or maybe the subject stopped coming up. I’ve always loathed the word (diabetes), so nowadays I just say I’ve got type one and most people seem to get what I’m talking about.

  2. As a child I liked pneumonia (“Put on your dressing gown, or you’ll catch pneumonia” was always popular in our house) and especially malaria, with its promise of tropical warmth, as disease names. Cancer has a nice, woody sound to it; I recently discovered that unlike most European languages, which use a crab word, Irish calls it ailse – a sore or tumour – though that’s still a synonym for earwig, it says here.

  3. David Eddyshaw says

    The best disease name is Histiocytosis X, on account of the wonderful B-Movie vibe.

    Having said that, “Earwig” has potential.

    “My God, doctor! Do you mean it’s earwig?”

  4. Doesn’t it seem shameful to you to need medical help, not for wounds or because of some seasonal illness but because, through idleness and the lifestyle we’ve described, one is full of gas and phlegm like a stagnant swamp, so that sophisticated Asclepiad doctors are forced to come up with names like “flatulence” and “catarrh” to describe one’s diseases?

    It does. And those certainly are strange new names for diseases.

  5. Wow, I had no idea /-təs/ was standard AmE. When I’ve heard it from US TV characters I’ve taken it as a deliberate signal of their lack of book-larnin.

  6. @mollymooly: No, you pretty much had it right to begin with. Wilford Brimley’s pronunciation of “diabetes” would never have become a meme if it had not been considered somewhat peculiar and dialectical.

  7. Trond Engen says

    mollymooly: a deliberate signal of their lack of book-larnin.

    That’s sociobetes.

    Brett: Wilford Brimley’s pronunciation of “diabetes” would never have become a meme if it had not been considered somewhat peculiar and dialectical.


  8. I don’t find it at all peculiar but I hadn’t thought of dialectical. There is a bakery in Beijing called Hegel’s Bagels. They sell plain, sesame, garlic rosemary and cinnamon raisin, and I’m sure they’re all really high in carbs.

  9. David Marjanović says

    There are three different vowels in the video: [ə], [ɪ] and [i]. The rabbit-abbot merger and happY tensing have conspired to create even more confusion than there’d be otherwise.

  10. “you pretty much had it right to begin with”

    AHD gives priority to /-təs/ , as does LPD for AmE (it marks it nonstandard for BrE). MW puts it second, but without any qualifying labels. My current best guess is that it’s at Bryan Garner Stage 3 rather than Stage 2 as I thought before today.

  11. My current best guess is that it’s at Bryan Garner Stage 3

    I would agree with that.

  12. Misunderstood a previous comment, NVM

  13. Maybe it was discussed here at LH, but I don’t get this Bryan Garner Stage business. It seems to be intended to work for spelling, usage, and pronunciation altogether. How’s that making any sense? Pronunciation is most variable, spelling is more or less always standardized, and usage attracts the most peevery, hence the need for stages (why not use the usual denial to acceptance scale then?).

  14. Kid President summed up this thread several years ago: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nmmni_WdcFI

  15. With regard to ailse – cancer vs. earwig – that appears to be a question of convergent forms. The latter appears to also exist as gailseach. I wonder if the former whose etymology stops at Old Irish aillsiu can be linked to Latin ulcus.

  16. As a Type II case for many years, I have always said /-itiz/ with t-flapping. I am also an open and notorious happy-tenser.

    Pronunciations are the least reliable part of dictionaries, at least in the U.S.: they are never up to date and tend to represent notional rather than actual pronunciations.

    Gale adds: “One diabetis, two diabetes”.

  17. I’m with Gale (and her comment also works for counting seconds if you don’t have a watch handy).

    There is certainly has never been stigma attached to the -is pronunciation in England, where my memory goes back to 1966 and a jolly snooty endocrinologist with starched shiny white detachable shirt collars. This Bryan Garner stuff is moot there.

  18. David Marjanović says

    Bryan Garner Stage

    Heh, “pseudo-snoot eccentrics” 😀

  19. I’ve never heard ‘dire beat us’ in my life!

  20. I hear it more as ‘tyre BEATERS’ but I’m prejudiced by my own idiolect. I’m wondering if this ‘dire-beat-ease’ is now a spelling pronunciation to obliterate /ə/ and that it began in American hospitals, like ‘amb-yule-ants,’ ‘lumm-bar’ and ‘butt-ox’. It’s useful, I’d probably never have learnt to spell ambulance right without it.

  21. Nope, it’s the original Brit pronunciation — the old edition of the OED gives only (daɪəˈbiːtiːz). We Yanks aren’t responsible for everything that goes wrong, you know.

  22. No, definitely [,i:z]. It’s a classical Greek word, borrowed almost intact, and although we’ve changed the vowels a bit, at least we remember than the final weak vowel is the high front one, not the central one. As in (derived from Latin this time) indices, matrices, vertices, pyrites.

    Are the Americans who say [,daiə’bi:təs] (or [d]) the same ones who say [‘pra:sə,si:z]?

  23. Probably a random mix. I used to hate the latter, but I’ve grown resigned to it. (And it’s not just Yanks — I’ve heard Brits say it too, though they probably picked it up from us.)

  24. Oh yes, the tiːz bit exists in England all right, as did diabetes with -ease (as in disease) though it was less common. I’m just wondering where the American endocrinologist got his -ease and I’m guessing probably off another American endocrinologist who was sick of people spelling it -is. If you want to avoid catching something, keep away from cruise ships & hospitals.

  25. No, of course Yanks aren’t responsible for everything. The French must accept their fair share.

  26. Oh yes, the tiːz bit exists in England all right, as did diabetes with -ease (as in disease) though it was less common.

    I’m confused; those are two ways of writing the same sound.

  27. Aha. I meant ‘tizz’.

  28. I’ve never heard that, and even the 3rd edition OED doesn’t include it: “Brit. /ˌdʌɪəˈbiːtiːz/, /ˌdʌɪəˈbiːtɪs/, U.S. /ˌdaɪəˈbidiz/, /ˌdaɪəˈbidᵻs/.” (I.e., UK -tease, -tiss; US -tease, -tuss.)

  29. Well perhaps it’s just me then. I’m pretty sure I say izz and not iss but hearing consonants isn’t my strong point these days. I ought to learn the notation so I don’t waste your time, though. One day…

  30. I’ve been confused by AJPease/AJPus’s comments from the very outset. Would I be correct in assuming that he believes that /ˌdʌɪəˈbiːtɪs/ is the correct pronunciation, and that /ˌdʌɪəˈbiːtiːz/ is some bastard pronunciation sprung on us by the Americans but now lamentably entrenched in British pronunciation?

    It sounds to me like he has the history of the word’s pronunciation all topsy-turvy coloured by a rather idiosyncratic perception of the ‘correct’ pronunciation (now apparently challenged) in both countries.

    And please do tell me what rosie’s [‘pra:sə,si:z] is supposed to represent. Is it ‘processes’?

  31. Yes. I think it’s now way more common than the “correct” version, but I will maintain the latter against any and all opposition.

  32. You’re even more confused than Language, Bathplug. But I accept responsibility for causing it. I don’t think any of the American pronunciations influenced the English ones – I don’t see how they could have. /ˌdʌɪəˈbiːtiːz/ in England is IMO an old-fashioned pronunciation. I have always had an irrational dislike of it that verges on revulsion. Wikipedia’s alternative pronunciation is -təs/ which is closer, but I usually say -ɪs/. I’m not prejudiced against most American or Australian or any other pronunciation of English – I even use them myself when it suits the occasion – but I’m not going to say /ˌdʌɪəˈbiːtiːz/, because it would make me physically ill. I can’t remember any of the American endocrinologists I consulted (maybe six over the years in San Francisco & New York) using it either. My view is idiosyncratic, I know, and my perception might be out-and-out wrong. In that case, please forgive me. 🙂

  33. Thanks. You had me confused. I now understand where you’re coming from.

    I use the old-fashioned pronunciation. I’m sorry to hear it makes you physically ill. The new pronunciation makes me feel slightly off but only because I’m an old stick-in-the-mud.

  34. Lars Mathiesen says

    I thought the English pseudo-Latin plurals in E:S were restricted to actual borrowed i-stems. But who these days recognizes a forth declension deverbal and gives it a proper U:S plural ending?

    (Diabetes is from Greek, of course, and anyway would not occur in the plural often enough to have a standard form, I guess. Series is another fun one, fifth declension (e-stem) and with identical nom.sg and nom.pl in Latin).

  35. Athel Cornish-Bowden says

    I’m not sure I use either of the pronunciations discussed — more like [dɑɪ̯ə’bɪjtɪs], that is with tiss at the end.

  36. I use the same one as Athel.

    Bathtub, I’m guessing your pronunciation and Language’s isn’t the bothersome one for me partly because I really haven’t heard that in years. I’m not sure the IPA takes account of the difference (or even if it exists: the more I think about it, the worse it seems to become).

  37. David Eddyshaw says

    I use the supposedly “old-fashioned” pronunciation with -/i:z/. I use the word constantly every working day. I rarely hear any other pronunciation, except from those who presumably suppose the word to be “diabetis” or “diabetus” (the first of which, at least, would be a perfectly plausible disease name, after all.)

  38. I rarely hear any other pronunciation

    Me too, but that’s because I don’t spend time with AJP, Athel, or Wilford Brimley.

  39. I still don’t understand how -ease can be thought of as old-fashioned and -iss as standard. Is this a change that happened since people first made a thing of Wilford Brimley’s pronunciation? Is Wilford Brimley an icon of modern usage opposing us old-fashioned folks?

  40. David Eddyshaw says

    Indeed. I am not worthy.

  41. Andrej Bjelaković says

    FWIW LPD (2008) says:

    BrE: ˌdaɪəˈbiːt iːz (main version); -ɪs (less common); -əs (liable to be labelled non-standard)
    AmE: -ˈbiːt̬ əs (main version); –iːz (less common)

  42. Huh. I’m surprised that iːz is less common here, but I guess I shouldn’t be. Such is the power of Wilford Brimley.

  43. I had never heard of Wilford Brimley.

    Anyway, Google obligingly served this up:

    What is Wilford Brimley famous for?

    The Quaker commercials were famous for their slogan: “It’s the right thing to do and the tasty way to do it.” Brimley is also known for appearing in numerous television advertisements for Liberty Medical, a company specializing in home delivery of medical products such as diabetes testing supplies.


  44. AJP, it’s not rocket science.

    It’s one of three:



    ‘beat us’ (‘us’ unstressed)

    Have I missed one? Or have you injected a new sound into your British sound system so that you don’t know how to treat it?

  45. Not rocket science, I’m being held back by ignorance. There’s a modest, swallowed or mumbled -ease and a say-it-very-loud-&-clear –ease. I object to the latter only. Does IPA take account of mumbled enunciation? Perhaps what I need is the cool looking David M symbols that contain tiny superscript letters and bits of Greek & Icelandic alphabets – I can’t even begin to imagine how you deal with Asian pronunciations.

    I recognise Wilford Brimley from films. Now I know about the adverts, it all adds up.

    I bow to Dr (or is it the UK surgeon’s Mr?) Eddyshaw on British pronunciations of diabetes. I don’t hear the word very often, certainly not several times a day, and I haven’t lived there for 40-something years. I’m just an old man with his memories.

  46. David Marjanović says

    a modest, swallowed or mumbled -ease

    That might mean the range of intermediates between -ease and -iss: first of all shortening of the unstressed vowel, so you get [iz], also various amounts of devoicing on the /z/ before a pause, and finally a slide from [i] to [ɪ].

    Pretty much the same things happen to the vowel at the other end of the word in German: slowly & clearly I say [ˌd̥iːaˈb̥eːtɛs], mumbled it drifts toward [ˌd̥ɪaˈb̥eːtɛs], possibly even beyond that to [d̥ɪɐ̯ˈb̥eːtɛs] with three syllables and no secondary stress.

  47. PlasticPaddy says

    Diabetes is hochdeutsch. Do you say Zucker or Diabetes?

  48. @Paddy

    Both Zucker and Diabetes are standard words (I assume that’s what you mean by “Hochdeutsch“). Die Zuckerkrankheit is also a standard word, meaning exactly Diabetes – it’s merely a bit old-fashioned.

    The use of the word Zucker as a short form of Zuckerkrankheit, or instead of Diabetes, is colloquial: “Er hat die Zuckerkrankheit” or “Er hat Zucker” (not *”Er hat den Zucker” !). The word is still standard, this use of it is colloquial.

    Hochdeutsch” is a rather flabby word for a vague category.

    Just ran across a nice old saying: Er hat Zucker im Munde und Gall im Herzen.

  49. “He is a prostitute with a heart of gall”.

  50. @AJP

    One way to figure it out is think what it might rhyme with.

    ‘Cities’? Apparently not.

    How about ‘treatise’?


    Or have you come up with a novel pronunciation that doesn’t rhyme with anything?

    Many years ago, the word ‘Ms’ was introduced as an alternative to ‘Miss’ and ‘Mrs’. I read that it was to be pronounced /məz/. The trouble is, this sound doesn’t occur in Australian English in a stressed syllable. Pronouncing it this way introduces a new sound into the vowel system, and to me this seemed strange and affected. I don’t know what people in Australia say now, but for me the obvious solution is /mɪz/, half way between ‘Miss’ and ‘Mrs’.

    In your keenness to avoid ‘tease’, is it possible that you’ve come up with a sound that doesn’t occur anywhere else in your sound system?

  51. “There is a bakery in Beijing called Hegel’s Bagels”

    Best eaten with Lockes.

  52. I read that it was to be pronounced /məz/.

    This was a non-starter; as far as I know, everybody says /mɪz/.

  53. The rhyme ‘treatise’ is the one I don’t like, Bath. Thanks for that. And /mɪz/ for Ms is or was very common when I lived in New York, where I first encountered it, so I use that. I only heard /məz/ (as in non-rhotic Mersey?) as a British, reluctant & exaggerated early (1970s?) experimental version.

    David, your description puts it much better than I could have. I like / d̥/ and / ɐ̯/. Now I’ll research what they mean. I imagine it’s rather like musical notation or the symbols in architectural plan drawings, you must restrain any tendency to add little flourishes. I was once admonished as a student for unwittingly drawing shower stalls in my elevator shafts.

  54. David Eddyshaw says

    I say /məz/; mind you, I don’t actually say it very often. I tend to use “Mrs” for all grown-up women, more Germanico, unless actually asked to say “Miss.”

    Had I been consulted on the matter, I would have advised the abandonment of “Miss” rather than the adoption of a neologism. Unaccountably, I was not.

  55. What are women surgeons known by in Britain? Miss, Ms or Mrs?

  56. David Eddyshaw says

    Traditionally, Miss, regardless of marital status. Nowadays, generally Mrs.

    I recall a female surgeon who was fed up with the whole rigmarole suggesting that the best solution was to get that university chair as soon as possible.

  57. PlasticPaddy says

    If you had put the showers in the lifts themselves, you could have been ahead of your time and received a hefty contract for Trump towers: “solid gold shower head and taps, enjoy a quality shower as you travel between the ground floor and your penthouse suite!”

  58. David Marjanović says

    Do you say Zucker or Diabetes?

    It’s rather marginal in my active vocabulary in the first place; but I definitely go for Diabetes before Zuckerkrankheit, and I’ve encountered Zucker as described by Stu but haven’t used it myself.

    as far as I know, everybody says /mɪz/

    That’s what I was taught to say close to 30 years ago; until now I had no idea this wasn’t originally intended. Of course stressed /ə/ was a non-starter outside of Wales…

    …and perhaps those American accents that equate stressed [ʌ] with unstressed [ə]. I wonder.

    I like /d̥/ and /ɐ̯/. Now I’ll research what they mean.

    The slashes indicate a phonemic transcription, where different sounds that the language in question treats as “the same thing” are written the same. Because I wanted to spell out different sounds that are probably “the same thing” in different states of mumbling, I couldn’t do that and had to indicate a phonetic transcription by using brackets.

    …and once I got that far, my pedantry took over and I put the under-ring under [d] and [b] to indicate they’re voiceless. In a phonemic transcription of German (or English), that would be irrelevant.

    The under-arch indicates that a vowel does not form its own syllable, but forms a diphthong (or triphthong) with a neighbouring vowel (or two). [ɐ], finally, is what happens to unstressed -er(-) in the more conservative non-rhotic English accents, like the Queen’s or Bernie Sanders’s; it’s also more or less how the STRUT vowel (always stressed) comes out in the more innovative non-rhotic English accents of southern Britain (where unstressed er is mostly just [ə]).

  59. AJP, I’m confused.

    You say first:
    There’s a modest, swallowed or mumbled -ease and a say-it-very-loud-&-clear –ease. I object to the latter only.

    But then you say:
    The rhyme ‘treatise’ is the one I don’t like, Bath.

    You’ve said two different things. You’re first comment quotes above, it sounds like it’s a pronunciation rhyming with “treaties” (or a version of it) you object to, not “treatise”.

    I would describe my pronunciation as: Imagine a very small beet, call it a beety. Imagine more than one, beeties. That’s the pronuncation of the latter part of diabetes. I’m from the middle of the USA.

  60. The rhyme ‘treatise’ is the one I don’t like, Bath.

    Now, like Ellen K, I AM confused! I thought the one you didn’t like was ‘treaties’.

    (I should revise my list of rhymes to ‘treaties’, ‘treatise’, and ‘treat us’, although the last two are the same for me.)

  61. Ms. is a 1970s Americanism in origin, and in North America, it is uniformly /mɪz/, with the vowel of both Miss /mɪs/ and Mrs. /ˈmɪsɪz/ ~ /ˈmɪsəz/ (depending on the Weak Vowel Merger, aka the abbot/rabbit merger). In the American South, Miss and Mrs. merged in the 19C or earlier as /mɪz/ anyway, so in that region Ms. was a neologism only in spelling.

    When Ms. was picked up in the UK it acquired a spelling pronunciation [məz], basically just the two consonants with a minimal anaptyctic vowel. From there it moved in various directions, backward to /mɪz/ or onward to other variations.

  62. Ellen & Robe: I thought the one you didn’t like was ‘treaties’.
    Damn. I could have sworn it was ‘treatise’ I didn’t like, but Ellen’s right. Knowing, for the /t/, that she’s from ‘the middle of the USA’ I think I can tell from Ellen’s beeties story exactly what the word diabetes sounds like when she says it, and with all the variations and subtleties I now see that’s quite an achievement.

    David M,
    Thanks for your explanation and for taking the trouble. I’ve filed it with selected comments I’ve found useful over the years.

  63. When Ms. was picked up in the UK it acquired a spelling pronunciation [məz]

    Now all is clear!

Speak Your Mind