Jeff O'Handley, Author

Jeff O'Handley

The Doubting Writer Finds His Voice

Word Nerd Friday

I love the sound of that. Word Nerd Friday. If I’m smart, I’ll make this a regular feature of this blog, though that will require me to spend time finding and breaking down various words. This one came to me quite by accident.
So the first word of Word Nerd Friday is: Phytophotodermatitis. That’s a mouthful, isn’t it? Phytophotodermatitis. Say it again, because it’s fun: Phytophotodermatitis.
What, you may ask, is phytophotodermatitis? It’s a skin condition caused by chemicals in certain plants and fruit, triggered by exposure, first to the chemicals, then to sunlight or ultraviolet light.
I’m no scholar of Greek or Latin, but I do know a little. If we break down the word into parts, we get this:

Phyto: plants, 
Photo: light
Derma: skin
-itis: bad*

*Okay, I made that last one up. As my wife points out, -itisis more like ‘condition’, but if you think about it, it’s almost always something bad, isn’t it? Dermatitis, Appendicitis, Diverticulitis—nothing good ever comes out of something with ‘-itis’ on the end.
And that’s the case with phytophotodermatitis—hell, as much as I like to say it, it’s a pain in the backside to type, so I’m going to start calling it PPD. Following contact with the chemicals in question, ultraviolet light triggers PPD, a reaction that can look like a typical rash or sunburn. After a day or two, it can produce blisters, which can be pretty big (don’t Google it, unless you’ve got a strong stomach). From my reading, these blisters and burns usually look worse than they are (though, if you get the stuff in your eyes, I expect it can cause severe problems), and they’ll go away in a few days, though some people apparently suffer long-term discoloration at the sight of the PPD.
Parsnip in a ditch. It’s about four feet tall. Phot by me
If you’re wondering why I looked up PPD, it’s because I now have it. Last week, I did some work with a local conservation group. We cleared a boat launching area on one of our rivers and pulled an invasive weed out of the river. Unbeknownst to me, one of the plants we cleared out was Wild parsnip, (Pastinaca sativa) a close relative of the carrot.

While the parnsip root is edible, the leaves, stems and flowers contain the chemical that causes PPD. I found this out Sunday, two days after exposure, when I saw a red line on my leg. I thought my dog scratched me when I came home (at seven years old, she’s still an overenthusiastic greeter), though I couldn’t remember her actually doing that. A few days later, it looked like–well, I’ll just stick that photo at the bottom. It’s not as bad as ones I’ve seen on the elsewhere, but no need to make anyone lose their lunch.

It looks pretty ugly, but it doesn’t hurt.
Wild parsnip is a pretty common weed that can be found across most of the continental United States and Canada, and across much of Eurasia, where it came from. As it’s summer for most of my readers, take care when going outside, especially if you’re doing any bushwhacking. Wash up after playing around in the weeds, and learn what this looks like (in other words, find a better picture than the one I’ve taken (never mind, just take a look at this page). 
Anyway, that’s our first Word Nerd Friday. Have a great weekend, and stay out of the Parsnip!
And here’s the leg:
Aside from the phytophotodermatitis, that’s one good-looking gam. Photo by me.

7 Responses

  1. Ooh that looks nasty – although obviously not that bad as I am eating my lunch at the moment and it isn't being lost 🙂

    PPD (i'm not going to attempt spelling it) is a great word to introduce Word Nerd Friday. Great idea 🙂

  2. Yikes! that looks nasty – glad it's not painful & I hope it clears up soon!

    Love the sound of the word too – it is fun to say 🙂

  3. I hate bugs so much, and sunburn, that even when it's hot, I'm usually covered up. And pulling weeds? If I HAVE to do it, I must wear gloves. I might touch something icky! Yep, I'm a WIMP and proud of it! 🙂

    Glad PPD doesn't hurt, but sure looks like it should!

  4. That looks like it should itch and hurt! No good deed goes unpunished, right? And from a parsnip, of all things. Humph. Well, at least it inspired you into Word Nerd Friday, which was interesting. Hope you leg heals soon!

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