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Shame and grief over a matter of words

Yale Medicine Magazine, 1999 - Winter


To the Editor:
I read with interest the note about Howard Spiro and the quotation from his address in Vienna (Faculty Notes, Summer 1998). Dr. Spiro is quoted as saying, “The shame that has no vent in words makes other organs weep.”

There are various ways to translate, and attribution to original sources is sometimes difficult, but when I passed through the pathology department as a medical student, I thought it was Virchow who had said, “Grief that has no vent in tears makes other organs weep.” Perhaps Dr. Spiro modified Virchow’s statement to fit the direction of his address, and, perhaps with the full address before me, I would not be carping like this. The way I learned it seems somewhat more appropriate, especially given that we used to believe that stress was responsible for various gastrointestinal problems.

Robert C. Wallach, M.D. ’60
New York, N.Y.

From Howard Spiro: I am grateful to Dr. Wallach for providing the source of the original quotation that I often repeat, even in my textbook. I had long ascribed it to the psychiatrist Maudsley but, on assurance that he had never said, “The sorrow that has no vent in tears makes other organs weep,” I have usually just put it in quotes. Perhaps I was overly subtle in switching “shame” for “sorrow” and “words” for “tears” but, in the context of what the Austrians were finally confessing, I thought I was making a point. I will trade a copy of my published remarks for the specific reference to Virchow. Fair enough?

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