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What does the palsy in cerebral palsy mean? How many palsies are there?

Zach Anner is on the cusp of becoming a huge celebrity. He’s been leading the contestants in Oprah Winfrey’s “Search for the Next TV Star” contest. His hilarious audition tape has received almost 3.5 million votes so far.

What makes Zach above-and-beyond incredible, in addition to being a talented comedian, is that he has cerebral palsy — which, Zach says, “is the sexiest of the palsies.”

This raises the question: What is a palsy? And are there multiple kinds?

Palsy, derived from the word “paralysis,” is a debilitating muscular condition often accompanied by uncontrollable body tremors. Because of the tremors, the condition is, at times, a misnomer, considering that paralysis can be the last thing experienced by people with a palsy.

Cerebral palsy is a catchall term for all palsies caused by brain damage occurring before, during, or shortly after birth. The most common kind of cerebral palsy is spastic diplegia. (For word nerds good at spotting similarities, you’ll notice some likeness to paraplegia and quadriplegia.) Historically, spastic diplegia was called Little’s Disease, named for scientist William John Little. Bell’s palsy is another common kind of palsy. It’s a form of facial paralysis that occurs when the main facial nerve is damaged. This condition is less debilitating than cerebral palsy. Sometimes it’s temporary. Katie Holmes, George Clooney, and Ralph Nader are some of the famous people who have had Bell’s palsy. Drooping of the mouth is evidence of Bell’s palsy. A third form is Erb’s palsy, which affects movement in the arms. Famous people with Erb’s include Joseph Stalin and Martin Sheen.

None of this should be confused, though, with the peculiar (and non-medical) adjective palsy-walsy, meaning “suspiciously friendly.”

21 Comments

  1. wolf tamer and coal miner -  February 11, 2014 - 2:37 am

    Is it a coincidence that this is the fourth post about diseases?

    Thank you, Dictionary.com, for a very interesting article.

    Reply
  2. sly fan -  June 24, 2011 - 7:24 pm

    tats y his mouth and eyes are like that

    Reply
  3. VL -  February 23, 2011 - 8:17 pm

    i have one of the palsies mentioned in this article ( spastic diplegia) and i know someone with Bell’s palsy

    Reply
  4. bing -  October 8, 2010 - 12:58 am

    Interesting!!! Love it ^-^

    Reply
  5. PALSY-WALSY | BLOGCHI@mayopia.com -  August 16, 2010 - 10:49 am

    [...] think we’ll begin with “PALSY-WALSY” since we’re looking back — to when the DICTCOMHOTWORD began so we could more appreciate [...]

    Reply
  6. Robert Hyshka -  June 27, 2010 - 9:45 am

    People actually watch Oprah? – Id rather read a dictionary! Get a life!
    Great addition to the web site by-the-by.

    Reply
  7. Anne -  June 27, 2010 - 9:15 am

    Very interesting! Love Dictionary.com!!

    Reply
  8. Jose a Garcia -  June 26, 2010 - 6:50 pm

    They are fun and interesting all the comments posted in this site. Great job!!!

    Reply
  9. Johnny -  June 24, 2010 - 7:31 am

    The article failed to mention the most famous actor (and his character) of all who suffers from Bells Palsy….. Sylvester Stallone – Rocky Balboa. Yo Adriann!

    Reply
  10. deadman'sdaughter -  June 23, 2010 - 8:24 pm

    There are many variations of palsy. The title to this article suggested something informative, however it was written by someone both ignorant and immature.

    Reply
  11. liz -  June 23, 2010 - 3:45 pm

    This was informative and inspiring. Thanks for my opportunity to respond. Keep up the good work!

    Reply
  12. Yvette Montgomery -  June 23, 2010 - 10:26 am

    This piece is very much informative and very much needed. I appreciate the information and knowing that Zach Anner was even given the opportunity to do something many doctors probably never expected him to do. For those who don`t find his humor funny then, your bad. Until you`ve spent a day in his position you will never know how big of an accomplishment that is for him.

    Reply
  13. Nadine -  June 23, 2010 - 7:30 am

    Very interesting but yah…I agree with you notpalsy, he’s not funny at all.

    Reply
  14. Jeevendra -  June 23, 2010 - 7:27 am

    This is intersting information, indeed.

    And I must thank the Dictionary.com team for creating the hotword posts. This is like nectar for us word lovers. For me, these posts are more enjoyable than the word of the day. Looking forward to seeing more awesome features like this in the future as well.

    Good luck!!

    Reply
  15. Alia -  June 23, 2010 - 5:16 am

    palsywalsy. I like that word. lol

    Reply
  16. Alan Turner -  June 23, 2010 - 4:39 am

    I wonder if Zach Anner understands grammar. Whoever writes this stuff obviously has but somewhere between little and no idea.

    Reply
  17. yohanee -  June 23, 2010 - 1:32 am

    thanks for the information.. ^_^

    Reply
  18. reddit -  June 23, 2010 - 1:07 am

    It’s the sexiest of the palsies.

    Reply
  19. Not Palsy -  June 22, 2010 - 6:22 pm

    That guy is not funny at all.

    Reply
  20. jay David sinclair -  June 22, 2010 - 5:49 pm

    I really enjoyed this website, it showed me the brighter side of life, Thankyou…

    Reply
  21. Ms H -  June 22, 2010 - 5:41 pm

    interesting information.

    Reply

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