How we pronounce a word is certainly not the most important issue in the world; however, to discuss the terrible scourge of tinnitus, ringing in the ears, I feel it is important to mention where the name originated and its proper pronunciation.
In the United States and North America, we pronounce many of our English vowels differently from our friends in Great Britain. Even the Oxford English Dictionary and Merriam-Webster Dictionary do not agree on the proper pronunciation of the word tinnitus, so I will make a case for my personal preference, which is also accepted by the majority of ear specialists worldwide. My preferred pronunciation is “tinn’-it-us,” with emphasis on the first syllable, “tinn.”
The Latin root word for tinnitus is the verb “tinnio, tinnire,” meaning “to ring.” The ending “-us” indicates the masculine form of the Latin word.
One consideration is that, for consistency, when a vowel recurs in an English word, it is typically pronounced the same way each time. For instance, each short “i” in the word living or each short “e” in the word effervescent. Or each long “i” in the word iritis (pronounced eye-right-us.) This is not a hard and fast rule of grammar but serves to illustrate a point here.
In the alternative pronunciation of “ta-night’-us,” the first “i” is pronounced as the short “i” and the second is pronounced as the long version. Furthermore, it seems that to justify this pronunciation, the ending of the word would more properly be “-itis,” as in “tinn-itis.” As in the case with arthritis or appendicitis, the addition of “itis” to the end of a word in medical terminology indicates inflammation. For example, arthritis means inflammation of a joint, pharyngitis is inflammation of the pharynx, and dermatitis indicates inflammation of the skin.
Tinnitus is a symptom rather than a physical condition of an anatomical structure of the body. Inflammation is not generally associated with tinnitus. Adding the sound of “-itis” to the root word “tinnire” for “to ring” would translate to “inflammation of ringing.” This feels inappropriate to me, so once again, I prefer to call it tinn’-it-us. This is merely one person’s opinion.
Perhaps we should move on to far more important issues, such as what tinnitus is, what causes it, and what can be done about it. Millions of people worldwide suffer from this devastating affliction. The majority of sufferers learn to “habituate” the noise. This means that their brains develop a habit of ignoring the noise, even when it is present. Some become so anxious because of the incessant noise that they become suicidal. Others discover ways to eliminate the source of the unwanted sound.
As a former sufferer from both tinnitus and hyperacusis (sensitivity to loud sounds), perhaps the most important message I can deliver about these conditions is that the sufferer has many viable options. Contrary to what many physicians tell their patients, a great deal can be done to help these individuals. There are many valuable treatments for tinnitus, and in some cases, a cure can be found. The sufferer must become aware of his or her options. Tinnitus is one medical condition where self-education is essential to achieve the desired outcome.