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Who Was Gilles De La Tourette?

A few weeks ago I spoke at a How To Have Tourette’s event based on some of the writing I’ve done here on World’s Strongest Librarian. At the end we did a question and answer session and one of the first hands raised had this question behind it: “Why is there an apostrophe in Tourette’s? Is that the person who first had it?”

The answer to that question is yes, it was named after a French neurologist with a lot of names: Georges Albert Edouard Brutus Gilles de La Tourette. But he did not have the tic disorder. He was the gent who observed a lot of people who had various motor and verbal tics.

Once he had done some writing about his observations, this “maladie des tics,” as he was calling it, was named after him. I’m not sure if that’s an honor or not. Wikipedia’s entry doesn’t really say.

And that is the story of who it is named after. When I first started researching Tourette’s in earnest after it worsened in my early 20s, I ran into Monsieur Tourette in the first book I chose. I was actually a little disappointed to see that he didn’t have tics himself. I’m not sure why, especially since I wouldn’t want it named after me.

He had a colorful history, which was not limited to his being shot in the head by one of his patients. He lectured extensively on neurology, but also on some stranger fringe elements like, and this is one of my all-time favorite words: Mesmerism. The art of mesmerizing people. Yes!

tourette's syndromeGetting shot in the head was not something he bounced back from quickly, and he eventually died at the young age of 47.

At the event where I had been speaking, I sensed a bit of disappointment when I could only say, “Yeah, it was named after a guy who observed some of it.” But at the time I realized I hadn’t retained much info from my early reading about TS. Not sure it matters anyways, but that is the tale.

Josh

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