Allergies and Possessive Adjectives

Until three years ago I didn’t have any allergies. Peanuts, strawberries, bee stings, pollen, dust – bring ‘em on. Then I spent my first spring in New York City, and something about the dandelions in Central Park (or maybe it was the cherry blossoms in Brooklyn, the magnolias in Washington Square, or the pear flowers on Broadway) kicked me right in the sinuses.

The dry, stuffy feeling in my throat is only a minor nuisance. What really bothers me is that now I’m a dork. Because allergies are for dorks. That’s what I was raised to believe. Kids who stay indoors, kids who wear glasses, kids who inherited weak genetic material, kids who need an excuse not to try out for soccer – they’re the ones who have allergies.

Allergies seem to reflect a personal weakness on the part of those who suffer them, and it’s not just because of a social stigma. It’s also a linguistic convention. We talk about allergies using possessive adjectives – “my allergies,” “her allergies,” “your allergies,” but never “an allergy,” or “the allergies.” (Sometimes it’s appropriate to just say “allergies.”) If you catch a cold, it’s “a cold”—anyone else might have caught it instead. Even the most personal afflictions are described in impersonal terms—“a broken ankle,” “cancer,” “the clap.”

But we usually pair allergies with a possessive adjective. Allergies are attributed to the victim, as if it’s their own fault, their own personal weakness. In this way allergies belong to a special category of things that we assign to people who haven’t really earned them (yet), like a fifteen-year-old studying for “her” driver’s license, or a grad student explaining the requirements for “his” PhD.

I would much rather talk about “my” PhD than “my” allergies. But I guess that would make me a dork, too.



  1. I am torn. Because I would actually rather talk about how I can’t help thinking of allergies as a character flaw than talk about “my” PhD, but it’s by the smallest of margins.
    It’s interesting though at what point possessive pronouns are assigned to medical incidents. As in, “she had a stroke” versus “his cancer came back.” Perhaps its a question of longevity.

  2. Dude, here’s a heartbreaking allergy story.

    It was the super-precious cherry blossom festival in the Brooklyn Botanical Garden, and Jess and I go for the obvious benefits of watching her look at flowers.

    Or, that’s how I imagined it all in my head. Whatever combination of rare plants in full bloom sent my allergies in hyperdrive. I easily sneezed fifty times straight. I was popping benadryl like M&Ms, with the only effect that I was barely able to walk straight while having this epileptic sneezing attack.

    Allergies, they alienate you from the very air you breathe. They sully the otherwise like-affirming emergence of Spring.

    People should hate allergies way more than they do.

  3. I was just about to complain that we don’t have a massive, government-funded, mad scientist initiative to wipe the scourge of allergies off the face of the planet, and then I saw that, holy shit, this exists:

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