Why “acne” comes from a mistake, and what do doctors call “pimples”?

A recent report about acne and depression inspired an exploration of the words associated with the inflammatory affliction. What is the medical name for acne? And how did the slang word “pimple” come about?

Acne is a shortening of the medical term acne vulgaris, a chronic skin condition of the sebaceous glands that is common in adolescence. The symptoms: an outbreak of pimples and comedones. The word acne comes from a misreading of the Greek akmas, “point” or “peak.” You know the term from the word acme. A robust, pointy pimple is the acme of embarrassment for a 15-year-old.

A comedone, or comedo, is more commonly known by the self-describing term “blackhead.” Now, if the mental image that word conjures up makes you a little queasy, turn back now or risk losing your lunch. Comedo comes from the Latin comedere, which means “to eat up;” it was a name once given to worms that devour the body. The medical use of the word referred to the secretions that resemble said worms.

There are various thoughts as to the origin of “pimple.” (Thankfully, none are as gross as comedo.) The more precise medical term is pustule, “a small elevation of the skin containing pus.” Pimple may be a variant of the Old English “pypel” or the Latin “papula.” It is also possibly related to the Old English “pipligende,” which means “having shingles.”

The origin of zit is unknown.

Another great mystery of the body: why is a pinkie called a “pinkie?” And why is does a wedding ring go on the ring finger? Here are some answers.


Albany Times Union (Albany, NY) February 26, 1999 Byline: PETE DOUGHERTY Empire strikes back . . . again.

Time Warner’s reluctance to add the Buffalo-based Empire Sports Network will cost most Capital Region cable subscribers a chance to watch the Siena men’s and probably its women’s basketball teams play their Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament games Saturday.

Host Communications and MAAC Properties will produce nine tournament games from Buffalo over the weekend. Empire, a Western New York-based outfit available locally only on TCI in Schenectady, will show all nine. MSG, available on most area cable systems, will do seven. go to web site nba schedule 2012

Unfortunately for area fans, the two games MSG can’t televise — because of a contractual commitment with the New York Islanders — are in the 5 and 7 p.m. slots Saturday. The earlier game is a women’s semifinal that will involve Siena if the top-seeded Saints win their opener today. The 7 p.m. telecast is a men’s quarterfinal matching Siena against Rider or Manhattan.

To its credit, Time Warner pursued picking up the two MAAC games and placing them on an empty channel. “We’re still working on it.” Peter Taubkin, a Time Warner vice president, said late Thursday. “We’ve been trying to see if we can acquire the broadcast rights.” A spokesman for MAAC Properties confirmed Thursday that Time Warner will not be able to pick up the games because MSG plans to show them on tape Sunday morning.

“It’s not a matter of negotiating,” explained Sandy Rosenberg, a Host Communications vice president who oversees MAAC Properties. “MSG owns the rights. Because they’re airing the games tape-delayed, no one else can. If they were aired, it sabotages the (MSG) network.” In places such as Schenectady where MSG and Empire co-exist, viewers can watch the Siena games on Empire. Others will have to wait until Sunday, when both networks show all games.

“It’s an unfortunate situation,” Rosenberg said. “From our standpoint, it would have been a lot easier if Niagara had slid into the No. 2 seed (instead of Siena), and there wouldn’t be so much controversy.

“What’s important to point out is at the beginning of the season, all of the games were scheduled to be shown on MSG. Because of the lockout, the NBA schedule changed, and the Nets and Islanders were playing on the same day, so they had to alter the TV schedule.” Coming attractions: The MAAC’s taped telecasts will be at 8 a.m. Sunday on Fox Sports New York (women’s semifinal) and at 10 a.m. Sunday on MSG (men’s quarterfinal). . . . WRGB (Ch. 6) sports director Doug Sherman heads a six-person on-air crew working the MAAC. Sherman and Glenn Consor will call the men’s games. Howard Simon and Meghan Pattyson handle the women’s telecasts. Jack Armstrong, the former Niagara coach, and Sandy Diamond will do sideline reporting.

The MAAC men’s championship game is at 7:30 p.m. Monday on ESPN. Dan Shulman and Bill Raftery will call that game. . . . WXXA (Ch. 23), the best bet to acquire the package of 50 Yankees telecasts not available locally, entered negotiations this week with TWI, a syndicator that will handle networking for rightsholder WNYW. According to Chris Searing, station manager at WXXA, clearing more than 30-35 games will be difficult because of Fox’ network commitments. It is possible the package could be divided between two stations.

Even with Dennis Rodman’s debut, TNT opted not to add tonight’s L.A. Clippers-L.A Lakers game to its NBA schedule. The network has sent reporter Craig Sager to Los Angeles to follow Rodman and gauge the city’s reaction. TNT has the New York-Boston game at 8 p.m. and will be on the air until at least 11 with its postgame, which will focus on Rodman.

FACTS:SURF PATROL Weekend highlights in sports TV SATURDAY Critic’s choice: College basketball, Duke at North Carolina, ESPN2, 8 p.m. Duke tries to finish an unbeaten Atlantic Coast Conference regular season against its in-state rival. COLLEGE BASKETBALL 12:00 Missouri at Texas 6-CBS 12:00 MAAC: St. Peter’s at Canisius MSG 12:00 Xavier at Geo. Washington ESPN 2:00 St. John’s at Villanova 6-CBS 2:30 MAAC: Niagara vs. TBD MSG 4:00 Cincinnati at Memphis 6-CBS 7:30 MAAC: Siena vs. TBD Empire 7:30 Seton Hall at Pittsburgh ESPN 8:00 Duke at North Carolina ESPN2 9:30 UNLV at Wyoming ESPN 10:00 MAAC: Iona vs. Marist MSG 10:30 Arizona at Stanford FX TBD — To Be Determined PRO BASKETBALL 7:30 Boston at New Jersey FoxNY PRO BOWLING 4:00 PBA National Championship ESPN PRO BOXING 10:30 Bazan vs. Johnston HBO PRO GOLF 2:00 World Match Play, semifinals 10-ABC 6:00 PGA: Tucson Open CNBC PRO HOCKEY 1:30 Washington at Boston 38-Bos. 7:00 Detroit at N.Y. Islanders MSG 10:30 Anaheim at San Jose ESPN2 SUNDAY Critic’s choice: Pro golf, World Golf Championships Match Play final, ABC (Ch. 10), 2 p.m. The only match-play event until the Ryder Cup in September is down to the final two. COLLEGE BASKETBALL 12:00 Temple at Massachusetts 6-CBS 12:00 MAAC: First semifinal MSG 2:00 Connecticut at Syracuse 6-CBS 2:30 MAAC: Second semifinal MSG 4:00 Michigan St. at Purdue 6-CBS 7:00 CAA championship ESPN2 PRO BASKETBALL 12:30 New York at Detroit 13-NBC 3:00 Utah at San Antonio 13-NBC 5:30 Houston at L.A. Lakers 13-NBC PRO GOLF 2:00 World Match Play, finals 10-ABC 6:00 PGA: Tucson Open CNBC PRO HOCKEY 12:00 Phoenix at New Jersey FoxNY 3:00 Philadelphia at N.Y. Rangers 23-Fox 8:00 St. Louis at Chicago ESPN WOMEN’S BASKETBALL 7:300 MAAC championship MSG web site nba schedule 2012


  1. STUTTER | BLOGCHI@mayopia.com -  March 1, 2011 - 12:24 pm

    [...] even our name we uttered. — Then we went to sleep and dreamed it away — that’s another story for another book on another day. –>>Rupert [...]

  2. Curly Hair -  September 27, 2010 - 11:06 am

    pimple: [14th century. From an alteration of the base that produced Old English piplian “to break out in spots.”]
    Encarta ® World English Dictionary © & (P) 1998-2004 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

    @Wonderful wounds: Pus consists of dead white blood cells, dead tissue, bacteria, and blood serum. Saliva consists of water, mucin, protein, and enzymes. Phlegm and mucus are the same thing (I believe the difference is location), consisting of mostly mucins and water.

    @The Grammar Faerie: “I am the grammarian about which your mother should have warned you.” Hmm, shouldn’t that be “about whom”, not “about which”?

  3. The all american girl-next-door!!! -  September 27, 2010 - 6:35 am

    amalia enough with the gossip girl!!! Nobody cares!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  4. amalia -  September 25, 2010 - 8:13 am

    ENOUGH!!! Let’s talk about gossip girl

  5. Name? Doesn't matter -  September 24, 2010 - 4:54 am

    Gosh!!!!!!!!!!! This stinks I hate being so young!!!! I have really oily skin, but I have never once had a black head, but I do get acne when i’m stressed out!!!! So since i’m still a teenager how long will i have acne????

  6. Narcotics Dealer -  September 23, 2010 - 4:56 am

    You’re right TheGrammarMan. By the way they removed my comment! I pointed out that in the last sentence, there should be either “is” or “does” not both of them. They removed my comment. They should have removed the extra word from their text. BOOOOO!

  7. ACNE | BLOGCHI@mayopia.com -  September 23, 2010 - 12:50 am

    [...] glasses and a stutter and then the ACNE — white heads and black heads and bright pink lumps of pimples — a face of equal [...]

  8. Reverie -  September 22, 2010 - 3:12 pm

    Did not like it at all but I think it was well written.

  9. Pete -  September 22, 2010 - 2:05 pm

    Zit is a foreshortened form for squeeze it, something that you are not supposed to do with pimples is to pop them. Of course, Frank Zappa wrote a song about it called skweezit. Not really sure if some of you would consider it a song or even music.

  10. miley -  September 22, 2010 - 12:51 pm

    I have never had a pimple. my skin is perfect and not oily or enything:)im sorry about those of u who have had them

  11. Nathan -  September 22, 2010 - 11:57 am

    Re: Trolls…So, a troll might be intelligent, but he doesn’t know how to articulate his thoughts or doesn’t respect other people’s intelligence enough to engage in intelligent, rational discourse and only pleases himself by insulting the world at large with small and insignificant words. Well, the world at large is good at consuming the small and insignificant without a second thought.

    I am not a fan of this use of one’s intellect, which is a gift and one that should neither be abused nor restrained. If you’re a troll of a “fan of trolls,” don’t be small and insginificant. Use your intellect for good. Stand up and be a human being.

  12. The Grammar Faerie -  September 22, 2010 - 11:02 am

    Oh, my!! So much commotion over tiny pustules!

    To Mr. Petry and Kim, I would like to contribute the following ‘zitrivia’ found at http://www.wordspy.com/words/zitcom.asp:

    “The word zit — a pimple — entered the language around 1966 (the Oxford English Dictionary lists its etymology as “origin unknown”) and has been going strong ever since. Most new dictionaries have an entry for it, and it pops up even in the most august publications (for example, it has made appearances in The New York Times and The Washington Post this year). It’s a homely little word, but perhaps that’s the secret of its success: it just feels like the right word for what it describes (unlike, say, the euphemistic blemish).

    “Its role in today’s word — blending with sitcom (1964; short for situation comedy) — is obvious enough, considering that teenagers are acne’s target market.”

    TheGrammarMan, I believe you are correct in your postulation (not to be confused with the abovementioned ‘pestulations’) that the question mark should have been placed after the word ‘pinkie’, as the punctuation was part of another question, rather than an entire question being quoted.

    Dearest Name? Doesn’t Matter, if you are experiencing a stress-induced facial outbreak, I suggest that you try a gentle poultice of a soft wash cloth dipped in warm black tea (no sugar or cream!). The tannic acid it the tea is very condusive to healing and killing bacteria. Take care not to scrub at all, because scrubbing, or even touching your face with your fingers can cause more irritation and spreading. Also, try not to touch your face throughout the day, as the oils and bacteria in your fingers can contribute to or worsen any infection.

    Oh, dear. … I seem to have strayed from our original topic. Well, I will just close by agreeing with dearest Louis Paez above, that there are much more beautiful things about which to talk. Do keep up the good work!

    The Grammar Faerie
    “I am the grammarian about which your mother should have warned you.”

  13. Nathan -  September 22, 2010 - 10:13 am

    @Name?: Yes. Stress is the number one cause of breakouts. Sucks being a teenager, huh?

  14. Muffin -  September 22, 2010 - 10:12 am

    Well, because of those specific reasons Ula shared, I must admit that I absolutely love trolls. <3 ;D. Specifically 'Fat'/Teddy/Jeremy.

  15. Saf -  September 22, 2010 - 9:11 am

    Oddly enough, I’ve never had a single zit. Ever. And my skin is naturally pretty oily. People tend not to believe me about this.

    How does the letter Z relate in any way to auto-emotional involvement? Just curious. Is this some kind of common semiotic knowledge that I ought be aware of?


  16. jp1920 -  September 22, 2010 - 9:05 am

    oh, okay, it was bec a recent article paired the two. heh, of course they are paired

  17. jp1920 -  September 22, 2010 - 9:04 am

    GREAT and eternally useful info, but um tell me about the depression part, other than it sure was a good idea to get people to read the article.

  18. mark V -  September 22, 2010 - 8:50 am

    Please stop comming to a word blog looking for information that is not word-related.

  19. spaghetti cat -  September 22, 2010 - 8:15 am

    hello i am the spaghetti cat and i love to eat spaghetti and purrrrrrrrrr

  20. Kim -  September 22, 2010 - 7:09 am

    Slim is obviously a preteen or teen, likely suffering from said affliction. It’s best not to help exacerbate his/her already obvious mental shortcomings by engaging him/her.

    That said, I suggest the origin of “zit” is the akin to the origins of the word “zip,” since the pus zips out, sometime even hitting the bathroom mirror; therefore, IMHO, “zit,” refers to a papula only when it has reached the point where it is ready to popula.

  21. Ula -  September 22, 2010 - 6:30 am

    to every one above who made a comment in response to Slimmy SLims: a troll, according to the Urban dictionary a Troll is “One who purposely and deliberately (that purpose usually being self-amusement) starts an argument in a manner which attacks others on a forum without in any way listening to the arguments proposed by his or her peers. He will spark of such an argument via the use of ad hominem attacks (i.e. ‘you’re nothing but a fanboy’ is a popular phrase) with no substance or relevence to back them up as well as straw man arguments, which he uses to simply avoid addressing the essence of the issue.” and “One of many unsung internet heroes who are almost entirely misunderstood. Contrary to popular belief, many trolls are actually quite intelligent. Their habitual attacks on forums is usually a result of their awareness of the pretentiousness and excessive self-importance of many forum enthusiasts. As much as people may hate trolls, they are highly effective – their actions bring much of the stupidity of other forum users out into the great wide open.” the best way to kill a troll is to ignore it.

  22. Name? Doesn't matter -  September 22, 2010 - 4:39 am

    This blog is gross!!!!!!!!!! I myself only get little out-brusts when i’m studying really hard for a test or if i’m stressed out. So does that mean I am makein’ myself get them by worring about things????????

  23. louis paiz -  September 22, 2010 - 4:32 am

    why to worry about a pimple in the ….when you have so many beutiful things to talk about, keep up the good work.

  24. Alan Turner -  September 22, 2010 - 3:55 am

    The English have ‘spots’. The Americans have much more exciting words like ‘zits’. It makes a very mundane thing into something worth having. Americans always come up with good words.

  25. Zac Sullivan -  September 22, 2010 - 12:53 am

    If you click on “acne,” or “depression” in the article, it takes you to the definition of the words. Yikes.

  26. Mr. Raymond Kenneth Petry -  September 21, 2010 - 11:52 pm

    (But don’t try that indoors.)

  27. Mr. Raymond Kenneth Petry -  September 21, 2010 - 11:51 pm

    ZIT, is giongo onomatopoeia specifically intended to attribute and convey the emotional feeling in the process of extrusion– of a ‘zit’.

    One can approximate the imagined sound by igniting a twisted plastic bag and letting it drip– making a whispery-”whoooyt” sort-of sound, but the “Z” is used to indicate the auto-emotional involvement of said forceable expulsion.

    RHETORIC: “What is the difference between forceable and forcible?”


  28. TheGrammarMan -  September 21, 2010 - 11:33 pm

    The only thing that really bothered me was the “‘pinky?’” part. It should have read “‘pinky’?”.

  29. Blah Blah -  September 21, 2010 - 11:24 pm

    They are just facts. Calm down.

  30. Glace -  September 21, 2010 - 9:41 pm

    I thought zits were called so by the stupid people who pop them and the sound is zit?

  31. Antihick Al -  September 21, 2010 - 9:26 pm

    @Slimmy SLims
    You mean ACME, as the author is trying so hard to inform you. And so what if (s)he is? The stuff’s less harmful than useful to mankind. It certainly humbles the more arrogant members of the faction known as “The ATTRACTIVE People.” ARE YOU AN ARROGANT, ATTRACTIVE PERSON, SLIMMY????!

  32. Diana -  September 21, 2010 - 8:40 pm

    Where can I read the report about acne and depression?

  33. Wonderful wounds -  September 21, 2010 - 8:38 pm

    Someone explain to me how acne is made from something different than saliva and phlegm and mucus. Is our body filled with o many different liquids.

  34. 1233 -  September 21, 2010 - 8:09 pm

    THIS WAS NO HELP!!!!!!!!!!!! STUPID

  35. fasgfajgj -  September 21, 2010 - 8:04 pm

    ahahahha its justin beiber

  36. Curious -  September 21, 2010 - 8:04 pm

    What’s with the grammatically incorrect – not to mention rude – outburst, Slimmy?

  37. I don't like people like Slimmy SLims -  September 21, 2010 - 6:56 pm

    Uhm, Why bother posting comments like THAT? It’s offensive and rude, and I don’t really care if you’re so ignorant as to not consider your audience. Just don’t do that again.
    >P *angry little face sticking out its tongue at you*

  38. Robert -  September 21, 2010 - 6:21 pm

    And you don’t know the difference between “your” and “you’re”. So we’re about even.

  39. Slimmy SLims -  September 21, 2010 - 4:42 pm



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