‘The itis’ meaning explained: You might not want to say it after this

Bruno Cooke November 26, 2021
‘The itis’ meaning explained: You might not want to say it after this

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What was the original meaning of “the itis”? Where does the word come from? You may be surprised and/or saddened to know that originates from a racist word – and, knowing where it came from might make you think twice about tweeting that you’ve got a severe case of “the itis” next Thanksgiving.

‘The itis’ meaning in popular Thanksgiving discourse

You may have read or heard that the phrase “the itis” – as in, I got the itis so bad after the Thanksgiving meal I just chilled on the couch and watched some movies (from Urban Dictionary) – has racist origins.

Many people use the term to denote the feeling of sleepiness one experiences after a large meal. The technical term for this is “postprandial sleepiness” (or “somnolence”). “Prandial” means “of or relating to a meal”, and the prefix “post-“ means “following after”. 

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Another popular stand-in for post-prandial sleepiness is “food coma”, which does basically what it says on the tin. You eat a lot of food; you feel comatose. 

Although, people who actually have been comatose might feel weird about those that haven’t comparing the feeling of eating too much pumpkin pie (or broccoli casserole) to a state of profound unconsciousness.

But ‘the itis’ has a less-than-rosy history

Nowadays, many people say that have “the itis” after eating a big meal to describe the feeling of drowsiness that overcomes them.

But it’s important to understand that “the itis” originates from the word “niggeritis” (also spelled “niggaritis”), the racist roots of which are obvious. Wiktionary has it down as being of Caribbean and Jamaican origins. 

It also calls it a “humorous appropriation of a negative stereotype”, but notes that it “can be offensive outside of that context”.

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A Mic article on everyday phrases that “actually have racist origins” concludes that it “helped reinforce the stereotype that black Americans were lazy”.

Per Definithing’s entry on the word, n*gg*ritis is the “less socially acceptable” alternative to “macajuel syndrome”. Macajuel is a West Indian term for boa constrictor, a large snake famed (and indeed mythologised) for its (occasional) gargantuan feasts and lengthy bouts of… postprandial somnolence.

Do people say they have “the itis” knowing its racist origins?

Lots of people have posted about their post-Thanksgiving dinner lethargy on Twitter, saying they “got the itis”. 

Without serious research, it’s impossible to know what percentage of those have Jamaican or even Caribbean heritage, or to what extent they understand the original meaning of the phrase.

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There are those, however, who do recognise the awkwardness of people without Caribbean heritage using it so casually.

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Bruno Cooke has been a freelance journalist since 2019, primarily with GRV Media. He was an early contributor to The Focus, and has written for HITC, Groundviews and the Sheffield University newspaper – he earned his MA in Global Journalism there in 2021. He’s the Spoken Word Poetry Editor for The Friday Poem, and self-published his debut novel Reveries in 2019, which his mum called both a “fine read” and “excellent Christmas present”. Bruno has lived in China, Sri Lanka and the Philippines and likes, among other things: bicycle touring, black and white Japanese films, pub quizzes, fermentation and baklava. In 2023, Bruno will set off with his partner on a round-the-world cycle.