Posted Dec 28, 2018 By: Laree Martin
What do you call a group of zebras? No, I’m not joking—really, do you know what you call a group of zebras?
I didn’t either until recently.Many of us are familiar with the use of the term “zebra” in the medical community to refer to an unexpected or surprising diagnosis. It’s now well-documented (go ahead, Google “zebra medical”) that medical students are often told that for purposes of differential diagnosis, when they hear hoof beats to think of horses, not zebras. If you show up in your doctor’s office complaining about weight loss, diarrhea, and joint pain, you can bet that Whipple disease isn’t the go-to diagnosis. A lot of jokes begin that way, though. What do you call an attorney with an IQ of 37? That’s my favorite lawyer joke, and I am a lawyer, by the way. You call an attorney with an IQ of 37, “Your Honor.”
But what do you call a group of zebras? We should all know this, because it’s so perfect. Depending on your source of information, you might call a group of zebras a zeal. It seems fitting. I remember from last year the look on the parents’ faces as they attended lectures at the AI United conference in pursuit of answers to their questions about how to get their infant children with Addison’s Disease through those first years so the children could help recognize when they needed more hydrocortisone or electrolytes. Merriam-Webster defines zeal as “eagerness and ardent interest in pursuit of something.” That was those parents. They wanted answers, and they weren’t leaving without them.
From another source, you might hear that a group of zebras is a dazzle. I like that one, too! Maybe it’s just me, but when I’m a lone zebra, I don’t generally dazzle all that much, but you get me in a group of zebras, and it’s pretty amazing.
I think that the definitions I relate to most from the choices offered by Merriam-Webster are 1) to arouse admiration by an impressive display, and 2) to impress deeply, overpower, or confound with brilliance. I feel that if anyone had observed our group of zebras at the conference last year, knowing what each individual had gone through to get the diagnosis that was the price of membership into the group, that person would have had to admire our zeal and be impressed by our brilliance. I might not be well-read on most topics, but I can talk bone density, HPA axis, and antiphospholipid antibody syndrome with the best.
I don’t think that’s what it means to dazzle with brilliance, though. I think the meaning conjures up our inner brilliance, like the fire that people say they see deep inside gems. That’s what you see when you observe a room full of zebras at an AI United conference.