Lou Gehrig's crash blossom

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Arijit Guha sent along this remarkable crash blossom from the CNN website (spotted by his wife Heather):

Lou Gehrig's victim: Kill me for my organs
The lead paragraph explains:

Atlanta, Georgia (CNN) — A Georgia man suffering from Lou Gehrig's disease says he wants to die by having his organs harvested rather than wait for his degenerative nerve ailment to kill him.

It's hard to read the headline without coming up with macabre scenarios to explain it. Arijit thought it brings to mind "a zombified murder victim (killed by baseball great Lou Gehrig) pleading to be harvested for organs and die again."

Properly parsing the headline requires knowing that "Lou Gehrig's victim" can elliptically stand for "victim of Lou Gehrig's disease." Googling for "Lou Gehrig's victim" finds a few other cases (here, here, here), but in all of these examples it appears as part of the phrase "a Lou Gehrig's victim," lacking the ambiguity of the article-less CNN headline.

It also helps to know that Lou Gehrig's disease can be shortened simply to Lou Gehrig's, as in the Washington Post headline from Jan. 28, 2010, "CBS's 'Live for the Moment' exploits dreams of man suffering from Lou Gehrig's." I don't know how common this shorthand is among those who work with or live with the disease. (Medical professionals would likely refer to it as ALS, for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.) But it would follow the model of ellipticality seen in Hodgkin's (for Hodgkin's lymphoma), Alzheimer's (for Alzheimer's disease), Parkinson's (for Parkinson's disease), Asperger's (for Asperger's syndrome) and — in the UK at least — Down's (for Down's syndrome). (See Separated by a Common Language for the transatlantic distinction between Down and Down's syndrome.) Perhaps Lou Gehrig's disease generally resists this type of shortening because Gehrig has maintained his identity as a baseball legend independent of the disease named after him.


  1. Vireya said,

    July 31, 2010 @ 3:00 am

    Here in Australia, where Lou Gehrig is unknown, the disease is called MND, or motor neurone disease. So I would imagine the headline would be – Motor Neurone victim: Kill etc.

  2. Chris said,

    July 31, 2010 @ 6:05 am

    What's interesting is that Hodgkin, Alzheimer, Parkinson, Asperger, and Down were all researchers of their eponymous diseases, while Lou Gehrig's disease is actually named after someone who had the condition.

  3. Ken Brown said,

    July 31, 2010 @ 8:15 am

    As Vireya said, its not usually called Lou Gehrig's disease here in Britain either. I suppose if its the same thing as the disease that Stephen Hawking has, then he will be the most famous sufferer of it here.

  4. Debbie said,

    July 31, 2010 @ 8:46 am

    My friend Kathey is dying from this disease but when people ask, 'what does she have?' I answer with Lou Gehrig's disease and wait for recognition so I don't need to explain further. Nearly always I need to couple it with ALS and often need to explain the condition. As for the headline, it is sloppy writing but I think the meaning would not be misunderstood unless the heading was in a tabloid.

  5. Theodore said,

    July 31, 2010 @ 9:20 am

    …the article-less CNN headline.

    So it was just a headline and lead paragraph, and no article?

  6. Mr Fnortner said,

    July 31, 2010 @ 2:21 pm


    Also Lew Gehrig's ~ Legionnaire's, named after the victim.

  7. Ralph Hickok said,

    July 31, 2010 @ 4:10 pm

    I think it's Legionnaires' disease, because there were more than 200 victims.

  8. Andrew (not the same one) said,

    July 31, 2010 @ 6:46 pm

    I read it thus: we are supposed already to know that Lou Gehrig killed someone; now we are being told that this was not an unprovoked attack, but happened because the victim said 'kill me for my organs'.

  9. Kip said,

    August 1, 2010 @ 2:33 pm

    FYI- Down's Syndrome is often shortened to "Down's" here in the US too. (At least in my part of it.)

  10. lynneguist said,

    August 1, 2010 @ 5:13 pm

    What Kip said. That is, Down Syndrome is the 'approved' name of the condition in the US, but lots of people still say/write/perceive 'Down's Syndrome', and easily use 'Down's'. Thanks for the link to my post!

  11. Daniel Barkalow said,

    August 1, 2010 @ 11:12 pm

    I'd say that Lou Gehrig's victims, by and large, were opposing pitchers: "You came in with a three-run lead, bases loaded with two outs in the bottom of the ninth and Gehrig coming up. Your first pitch wound up in the center field bleachers. What do you have to say?" "Kill me for my organs."

  12. Boris said,

    August 2, 2010 @ 3:58 pm

    Not being a baseball fan, I have only minimal awareness of who Lou Gehrig was (he was a baseball player with a disease named after him). Then again, I have only a minimal awareness about Lou Gehrig's Disease (it's a disease named after a baseball player). I had no trouble parsing this on first read. I think in order for me to misconstrue the headline I would have to be completely unaware of the disease.

  13. ajay said,

    August 6, 2010 @ 6:10 am

    What's interesting is that Hodgkin, Alzheimer, Parkinson, Asperger, and Down were all researchers of their eponymous diseases, while Lou Gehrig's disease is actually named after someone who had the condition.

    Athlete's foot, housemaid's knee, bird fancier's lung… but it is unusual for a disease to be named after one specific patient. And the Legionnaires didn't catch legionella as an occupational disease. Or did they, given that their occupation was doing American Legion activities?
    (Why Legionnaires? Why not the English word "legionaries"?)

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