In class, I’ve been covering “sickness” vocabulary, like headache, sore throat, aspirin. The unit is called “What’s the Matter?” As I was explaining the difference between “disease” and “sickness,” I thought up a few examples of diseases: cancer, Parkinson’s disease. Then a student blurted out “diabetes” in Spanish, which is spelled the same way as it is in English, but pronounced differently.
Now, I need to interject here with an aside. As soon as my student said “diabetes,” I got an image in my head of a specific Simpson’s episode in which Cletus, the slack-jawed yokel, opens a door and introduces his cousin or sister, I forget. She is really overweight and is working out on one of those abdominal wheels. You know the kind? Where you kneel on the floor and push out on a wheel with a handle on either side, and then you have to pull yourself back up using your stomach muscles. Well, she was using one of these things and every time she lowered herself, she ate a bite of cake that was sitting on the ground, placed just at the end of her wheel-roll trajectory. “This is my ree- ward,” she explained. Cletus introduced her as “Dia-Betty.”
Back in the classroom, I began telling the students how the word “diabetes” was written the same but pronounced differently. “It’s pronounced die-a-bed-ees,” I said, the image of Dia-Betty in my mind. And it wasn’t until the next day that I realized I had just told them how to pronounce Dia-Betty, but not diabetes.