Discussions about eggcorns and related topics
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Chris -- 2011-03-08
Programmed cell death, or apoptosis, is critical to animal development. Our toes (and thoses of Moses), for example, took their independence by the obedient preordained suicide of interdigital cells in the embryo. The genes associated with these events have cheery names: grim, reaper, sickle, morgue, croquemort, and pallbearer. The Greek roots are apo, for “away”, and ptosis, for “fall”. The process of apoptosis can play a role in tumour formation, when cells refuse to die, and also when cancer drugs endeavour to trigger the cell-death pathway. It was probably inevitable that English speakers would pluck the word “pop” from inside the word, cleaving it from the imagined root “tosis”, as in halitosis, for example. I’ve tried to find cases suggesting that “poptosis”, or cell popping, is involved.
First person account
Cells go “pop” (as I like to think of it) when they receive a signal, from inside or outside the cell, which stimulates suicide receptors in the cell’s external membrane. ... But the word itself? I always thought it was a-poptosis, meaning the opposite or absence of “poptosis”. Like symmetry & a-symmetry. But I was wrong. It’s actually apo-ptosis, from the Greek meaning “falling from” (apo=from and ptosis=falling). The Greeks used it when flesh dropped from bones or scabs from sores and we could even use it at this time of year for leaves falling from trees.
Another giveaway of a semantic restructuring might be the formation of a descriptor for processes that encourage apoptotis, through replacement of the prefix a- only. For example, mechanisms spurring cell death would be recast as propoptotic.
Some confusion is possible here. “Proptosis” is an eye condition that can be reinterpreted as “poptosis” as well.
I can only imagine the expressions, the various visits and consults that eventually took me to an ophthalmologist, who gave a general diagnosis of “poptosis”, which meant one eye seemed more protruded than it ought.
Ptosis, or drooping of the eyelid, can get to poptosis too.