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Origin of -itis
ABOUT THIS WORD
What else does itis mean?
As an independent word extracted from uses of the suffix, itis is a slang term for the lazy, sleepy feeling one gets after eating a lot of food—like a food coma.
How is itis pronounced?[ ahy-tis ]
What are some other words related to itis?
Content warning: the following sections contain references to the N-word, which is involved in the history of the slang itis and important to note in the usage of itis.
Where does itis come from?
The suffix -itis comes from a Greek word that indicates “disease,” especially one marked by inflammation. One of the earliest uses in English is arthritis, seen as early as the 1500s and literally meaning “inflammation of the joints.”
Other familiar medical instances of -itis include appendicitis and tonsillitis, which helped inspire people to use -itis to create facetious names for fake illnesses (e.g., workitis, or “an aversion to work”). We can find such coinages in the early 1900s in the likes of fiscalitis. In 1945, Winston Churchill famously spoke of electionitis, for example.
Independently Itis has been used as its own term to designate an abnormal bodily condition since the early 1900s, but its slang sense—a feeling of laziness that comes after eating a big meal—emerged in the 20th century. It appears to come from n*ggeritis, first recorded in 1960s West Indies slang. An early example comes from a 1968 book by Black author and academic Julius Lester. The use of the N-word, here is a re-appropriation of the slur and painful historic stereotypes that Black people are lazy; the word n*ggeritis has also been used, however, to convey racist sentiments.
The solo itis, for the sleepy feeling you get after eating, is recorded by the early 2000s. The TV cartoon, The Boondocks, which focuses on Black characters and experiences, may have helped popularize it in a 006 episode called “The Itis.” In it, the character Granddad opens a soul-food restaurant, causing lots of people to get very drowsy from all of the hearty food he serves. That is, they came down with the itis.
How is itis used in real life?
Itis is most prevalent among speakers of Black English, used as a playful and humorous term for the sleepy feelings that set in after chowing down.
After eating lunch and the itis kicks in pic.twitter.com/WIfP5dhzib
— Heisenburg (@TheBlackChosen1) August 27, 2018
Sometimes itis can refer to feelings of sluggishness or lethargy more generally, as caused by stuffing yourself at Thanksgiving dinner.
Be mindful that itis is closely tied to Black culture, and that it is connected to the word n*ggeritis. Please see our usage alert regarding the N-word.
More examples of itis:
“I was in Austin for a comedy festival, eating my weight in barbecue until I got the itis. Suffice it to say, there’s a good possibility I might not fit into my bridesmaid’s dress this upcoming weekend, but who cares?”
—Phoebe Robinson, Vulture, April 2016