Angry at People Who Say “Lyme’s Disease” ?  Just Staaahp! 

I finally had to  write this post because I have seen far too many people say they HATE it when other people say “Lyme’s Disease.”  
I know Lyme can make us angry.  I get that.  But after asking around here and there, it seems that most, if not all, of the people who get angry at this usage are angry about it for all the wrong reasons. 


Let me make a quick note here since more people have been reading it lately:  In informal settings, one can really say it anyway they would like.  I never get on anyone’s case.  True, Lymes (no apostrophe) is always wrong.  But I don’t care.  Not everyone is good at spelling and grammar.  I suck at math.  So I leave it alone.  I only wrote this as a reference I can guide others to when they question this particular thing.  

I personally use Lyme disease but if I am saying something without the noun at the end, I use apostrophe s.  Example: 

“I have been diagnosed with Lyme’s.”  Because this is the basic rule found in the style guide I use for work (Book of Style 2). For those who don’t know, I have worked as a medical transcriptionist for about 10 years now; this in the guide many hospitals use to standardize the medical language we use in reports.  Note it is called Book of STYLE.


I don’t use “Lyme’s disease.”  BUT I don’t get mad at people who do or think they know “less” than I do or don’t know anything about Lyme disease.  That’s a silly way to judge a doctor.  Have you seen their grammar or spelling? Some are awesome.  Some–you wonder how they made it through high school much less med school.  


I knew there just could not be that many elite grammarians out there. (And they would have been wrong too, though forgiven, since elite grammarians don’t have to know medical writing rules also).  

I’m not here to add anger upon anger.  I’m not mad.  I’m simply here to defend those who are not really doing anything wrong.   

 THE GRAMMAR:  When a disease (or the like) is named after a place, it is called a toponym.  This is similar to an eponym, which is a disease, syndrome, etc., named after a person.  In the last year or 2, I found one half-way credible source that said toponyms are named without the “apostrophe s,” but eponyms are given an “apostrophe s.” 

As toponyms are becoming more common since some believe eponyms should be weaned out, AND the recent change to the eponym rules of not using the “apostrophe s” in some cases,  I believe this is why toponyms do NOT use the “apostrophe s” in their original names.  But that is simply my guess.  I haven’t found it stated outright like that. 

I have found that there is no one authority on this type of thing.  It all depends on which style guide you use. 

This also may be considered an example of a genitive possessive. You can do more research on that, but what I understand it to be is the type of possessive that is not saying one OWNS something; rather, it is OF another thing. So saying “Lyme’s disease” does not mean the city of Lyme owns the disease. It simply means it is a disease OF (or originating in) the city of Lyme. 

Just like one says MY mother (possessive pronoun) it does not mean I OWN my mom. She is the mom OF me. See the difference? So the base argument for disliking eponyms because one person cannot “possess” a disease or syndrome really isn’t valid in my opinion.

Examples of toponyms:  Lyme disease.  Gulf War syndrome.  

Examples of eponyms: Down’s syndrome. Alzheimer’s disease. 

MEDICAL WRITING RULES:  The original name becomes moot regarding “right” and “wrong” when the standardization in medical writing comes into play (or when we are talking with regular folk, not top elite grammarians with a scrowl-of-doom when, not if,  you screw up).  Just like in other jobs, those who write, edit, or transcribe medical documents have a book of rules they need to follow.  The rules, around 2009 I think, started changing, and now I have to transcribe “Down syndrome.”  This may make me cringe each time, but I don’t get mad at people who do it the other way.   Technically, now, either one is correct in informal settings, i.e., not a medical document where they are using these rules. 

Side note: I didn’t write the book so you can’t blame the messenger. 

Anyway.  If the book you are told to use for your job and/or your employer says to use “apostrophe s” for eponyms and toponyms, you use it.  

Example: Lyme’s disease.  

This, in medical writing, is called a style issue.  It would not change any medical facts in the record.  It is simply trying to make things the same across the board.  

Not all hospitals/clinics/writers/editors use the same book; some even use only parts of the book and some of their own rules.  And they can.  There are only a few “dangerous abbreviations” that they are held to, and these days it seems many places only enforce those in handwritten notes, which is understandable given why they were labeled dangerous to begin with (missed periods, letters that look similar when handwritten/cursive/messy).  

Right now, the latest “rule” I read, and told to use for my job, is that one that says you should NOT use the “apostrophe s” with eponyms and toponyms when it is used with the word “disease” or “syndrome” (or whatever), but if it is alone you DO use the “apostrophe s.”  


This patient has Lyme disease.  

She has a past history of Lyme’s.  

If everyone mad about the use of “Lyme’s disease” was an elite grammarian who understood toponyms and eponyms and believed original names ruled all– I could understand.  However, they would probably still understand acceptable style standarization and not get all bent out of shape over this usage after knowing the reason(s). 

Those who have been in the medical field during these changes probably have used Lyme’s and Lyme’s disease in their reports (and doctors in their practices) because they were supposed to.  For it to seep into daily language is normal.  It doesn’t make it sooooo awfully wrong … just like those who say “Alzheimer’s disease” aren’t wrong.  Yes, Lyme disease is the original name.  If “Lyme’s” was so wrong, the authority on medical records (AAMT/AHDI) wouldn’t have told us to use it this way. If people mix it up and say “Lyme’s disease” it’s really a nonissue in my mind.  

I suspect many get mad because they saw an older article on the internet that said it was totally wrong to use “Lyme’s disease” because one town cannot own a disease if I’m remembering correctly.  I believe there were comments by others that corrected this person.  

This is one of the best links/papers I can find as a reference so you don’t have to take my word for it. 

So if you just NEED to be mad about (what is essentially) a style issue, may I suggest being mad at the “megging” –just enough to keep this trend to a minimum.  

Up next week : “Just Staaahp Being Angry at People Who Write ‘Just Staaahhp!'”
–Loon Out

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