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Saturday, 10 March 2012

Why is it called Down Syndrome?

So why is it called "Down Syndrome" (or possibly "Down's Syndrome" depending on whether you live in the USA or the UK)?
Well, I am sure you know the answer, dear reader, but a lot of people do not.  They have a vague idea that it is something to do with the word "down" - a negative word - perhaps something to do with the person's appearance, or maybe his/her intelligence or disposition.

No, it is actually this man's fault - Dr Down.  He first spotted the characteristics of the syndrome, and so it was named after him.  By all accounts he was a nice man; he supported women's rights and racial equality, which was unusual for a Victorian gentleman. It is just his name I have a problem with.  Why couldn't he have been called Dr Up, and then my son would have a condition called "Ups Syndrome", which is far more positive.  It actually sounds to me like quite a cool thing to have.  More appropriate too.  I think new parents would be pleased to find out their child had Ups Syndrome, and it would make those first few days far less traumatic.  All the other kids in the neighbourhood would hear about the kid with Ups Syndrome and be jealous.

"Mummy, why can't I have Up's Syndrome like that kid next door?"


Perhaps it is not a very realisic fantasy - after all, I have never come across anyone with the surname "Up", let alone a doctor.  I did however once know a Doctor Cute.  I like the sound of "Cute's Syndrome."

"Please excuse my son.  He is Cute."

Still, it could have been worse I suppose.  Here is my list of top ten real* doctors with, for the purposes of naming a genetic condition, names that are worse than Dr Down:

Top Ten Worse Doctors' Names


Dr Strange
Dr Strange might be a cool sorceror, but just spare a thought for the paediatrician who would have to tell the new parents that their child has "Strange Syndrome".

Dr. Hfuhruhurr
Steve Martin's character in "The Man with Two Brains" got fed up with people not knowing how to pronouncing his name. When asked, he always said it was pronounced "exactly as it's spelled."

Dr Evil
I don't think "Evil Syndrome" seems quite appropriate for my son. Devious perhaps. Mischievous certainly.  Not evil though.  Despite some occasional challenging behaviour, I cannot really ever imagine him being responsible for, say, war atrocities.

Dr Spock
That's Benjamin Spock, the paediatrician, not Mr Spock the Star Trek character.  Of all the people on this list, Dr Spock is the one most likely to have been involved in something like Down's Syndrome, but if it had been named after him, most people would assume that people with "Spock's Syndrome" had pointy ears and an inability to transcend logic. 

Dr Pratt
Dr Pratt, in "ER", was a talented doctor.  He was also young and good looking, but he never seemed happy.  I think it was the name.  Poor bloke.


Dr Octopus
If a child had "Octopus Syndrome" you would just assume he/she had eight legs.

Dr No
This one would be awful whether you chose to call it "No Syndrome" (confusing) or "No's Syndrome" (Nose Syndrome?).

My son has Nose Syndrome.
How does he smell?


Dr Hamster
Dr Hamster from the children's TV show "Peppa Pig" is actually a vet, so she is never really very likely to make any significant breakthroughs in the field of human genetic conditions.  Also, she is a hamster.

Dr Doom
Dr Doom is always far too busy planning global domination and the downfall of Reed Richards and the Fantastic Four to get involved in the study of learning disabilities.  Just as well really - he probably would have enslaved them all and turned them into an army of ruthless killers.


Dr O'Boogie
This was a pseudonym used by John Lennon.  I know that I said my main complaint with "Down" is that it is too negative, but I think "O'Boogie Syndrome" would be going too far the other way.

Incidentally we also have Dr Down to thank for the word "Mongoloid".  When he first discovered the condition, for reasons I do not fully understand, he thought it was something to do with the people of Mongolia. He classified the condition as the "Mongolian type of Idiocy". 

Once again, I suppose it could have been worse.  Thank God he did not think it was a German thing.

* real in the sense that most of them are real fictional doctors.


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