What a coincidence! On Monday I discovered Dysport, the brand name of a new injectable botulism-toxin product similar to Botox. And on Tuesday the e-mailed word of the day from Wordsmith was disport. Clearly, the universe was sending me blogging instructions.
Disport is a verb (to divert or amuse oneself) and a noun (diversion, amusement). It came into English around 1300 from Old French desporter (literally: to carry away). Interestingly, sport took at least a hundred years longer to settle into the vocabulary; it was first a verb (around 1400) and later a noun (around 1440).
And Dysport? It was developed and named by the French pharmaceutical company Ipsen and approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in April 2009 for the treatment of cervical dystonia (severe contraction of the neck muscles). But, like its cousin Botox, it's being widely used for off-label cosmetic purposes. (The toxin temporarily paralyzes facial muscles and reduces the appearance of wrinkles.) It's marketed in the United States by Arizona-based Medicis.
In English, Dysport is pronounced DISS-port, although the spelling could lead to some ambiguity: Surely I'm not the only one tempted to say "Die, sport!" (I haven't heard the name pronounced in French, where it may be closer to dees-PORE.) The Dys- apparently comes from dystonia, the condition the drug treats; the -port may mean "carry away."
Logical, yes? And yet so very bad. Indeed, Ipsen wanted to introduce Dysport to the United States under a different name: Reloxin. For reasons I haven't been able to determine, the FDA disallowed Reloxin.
I've written previously about the unwritten taboo against incorporating the disease or condition into the name of the drug that treats it (e.g., "Clamelle" for chlamydia). Patients don't want a drug that reminds them of their malady; they want a name that promises relief. With Dysport we have an added problem, because dys- is a negative prefix that means abnormal, impaired, or difficult. Dysentery: inflammation of the intestinal tract. Dysplasia: abornomal cell or tissue growth. Dystopia: an anti-utopia. Dyspeptic: suffering from indigestion. The homophone dis-, which has a distinct etymology (Latin for "apart"), has equally negative associations: disagree, dismember, disable, dishonest, dispirited. In fact, disport is the rare exception to the gloomy litany.
It's possible that Dysport is meant to evoke the frolicky associations of disport, but that may be wishful thinking. Respondents in an unscientific Facebook poll conducted by RealSelf.com, a cosmetic-procedures site, said the Dysport name suggested "a sporty vacuum," "a disease," and "a dysfunctional dock."
Of course, "Botox" itself didn't sound particularly appealing when it was approved for cosmetic use in 2002. Not only was the drug made from one of the deadliest poisons known, it put the "bo" of "botulism" and the "tox" of "toxin" right into the name. If Dysport proves to be more effective than Botox—doctors' comments on that RealSelf.com post indicate that it's faster acting—then that name, too, may be less of a liability than it appears.
Meanwhile, it's a pretty big liability.
Dysport box photo from here.