Morning names from recent days: drugs and food.
Archive for the ‘Language and medicine’ Category
Dee Michel wrote me a little while ago with the Adj + N phrase diabetic socks, which he found entertaining: how could socks be diabetic? The short answer is that though diabetic is an adjective in this phrase, it functions semantically like a noun, in particular like the noun diabetic ‘someone suffering from diabetes'; diabetic socks are ‘socks for diabetics’. From Wikipedia:
A diabetic sock is a non-binding and non-elasticated sock which is designed so as to not constrict the foot or leg. Typically sufferers of diabetes are the most common users of this type of sock. Diabetes raises the blood sugar level, which can increase the risk of foot ulcers. Diabetic socks are made to be unrestrictive of circulation.
(I am in fact wearing diabetic socks as I write this posting.)
So diabetic here is a type of non-predicating adjective, a type known in the trade as a pseudo-adjective: an Adj in form, but interpreted by reference to a N.
In the case of diabetic, we have not one, but two, pseudo-adjectives — one evoking the noun diabetic (as above), one evoking the noun diabetes (as in diabetic coma ‘coma caused by diabetes’).
Caught recently in a NYT Magazine story on medical diagnosis (a regular series in the magazine) in which one of the potential diagnoses was Bell’s palsy (the patient turned out to be suffering from Lyme disease). Ah, I have personal history with Bell’s (as it’s sometimes referred to, in truncated form).
For some years, I’ve been taking a diuretic with a long name that lots of people, including some medical personnel, have trouble pronouncing, though I don’t. What works for me is that the name is in trochaic tetrameter (with a final short foot):
hydrochlorothiazide: HY dro CHLo ro THI a ZIDE
Trochaic tetrameter is the meter of most English folk verse (folk songs, nursery rhymes, etc.), many advertising slogans, sayings, and more. People didn’t frame these with the trochaic tetrameter pattern in mind; they chose expressions according to what “sounded good” to them — that is, according to an implicit or unconscious aesthetic.
In the September 19th New Yorker, mail (under this title) from Arthur P. Grollman, M.D. (Distinguished Professor of Pharmacological Sciences, Stony Brook University School of Medicine):
Elif Batuman, in her piece on kidney disease in the Balkans, describes various theories addressing the etiology of the disease Balkan endemic nephropathy, or ben (“Poisoned Land,” August 12th & 19th). Over the past fifty years, many of the hypotheses Batuman mentions have been eliminated by rigorous scientific research. The crucial exception, and now the most widely accepted cause, is aristolochic acid, an environmental toxin from seeds of the aristolochia plant, which has been shown to be present in the kidney and urothelial tissues of patients with ben. We believe that aristolochic acid contaminates wheat grain, which is likely the primary route of toxin ingestion in the Balkans.
Heard in television ads for cancer treatment centers, the phrase investigational drugs. From an FDA site on “Access to Investigational Drugs”:
Investigational or experimental drugs are new drugs that have not yet been approved by the FDA or approved drugs that have not yet been approved for a new use, and are in the process of being tested for safety and effectiveness.
This passage treats investigational and experimental as synonyms in the drug context — but then the site goes on to use investigational exclusively. This specialized use of investigational (as opposed to the transparent general use ‘of or relating to investigations’) seems to be fairly recent — recent enough that it’s not in the dictionaries I’ve consulted. It seems to have replaced experimental as the appropriate technical term for drugs undergoing testing, perhaps because some people in the relevant community had come to feel that experimental no longer sounded sufficiently technical, but had become part of ordinary language.
From the NYT Science Times yesterday, in ” ‘Cured of AIDS’? Not Yet” by Donald G. McNeil Jr.:
“We should seek out, test and get people into treatment as soon as we possibly can,” Dr. [Anthony] Fauci said. “That way, you can get people into the position the Visconti cohort is in.”
(“Visconti cohort,” for Viro-Immunologic Sustained Control After Treatment Interruption, is a shorthand way of referring to the patients studied by the Pasteur Institute, in France.)
Someone labored hard to concoct that acronym.
A bonus from the same article, this “split infinitive” that caught my eye:
In this country, it is unusual for an infected pregnant woman to not see a doctor even once before delivery.
I probably would have moved the not up in the structure, to give not to see, but I’m not sure why; I certainly have no aversion to so-called split infinitives. Perhaps the writer systematically prefers to keep VP adverbs (like not) with the VP they modify (so that the infinitive marker to then combines with a full, modified BSE-form VP); there are certainly writers who do.
In Tuesday’s NYT Science Times, from “Really? The Claim: Evening Primrose Oil Soothes Eczema” by Anahad O’Connor:
It may not exactly be a household name, but evening primrose, a bright yellow plant native to North America, has a large following in the alternative medicine world.
The seeds of the plant contain essential fatty acids, which are used to make an oil that has a variety of uses as a dietary supplement and folk remedy. Its most popular use may be for eczema, the skin condition that affects as many as one in five people. Widely marketed and easy to find, primrose oil contains gamma linoleic acid, which is thought to help reduce skin inflammation without the side effects of other treatments.
On Tuesday I saw my family doctor, to have him remove the staples from the head wound I suffered in the Great Fainting Episode of March 4 (see my “vasovagal syncope” posting, here) and talk about my condition since then. It’s been slow and difficult going: unsteady on my feet (for several days I went back to using my cane to get around), terribly tired, sleeping badly, not always thinking clearly (lots of trouble recalling names), little appetite, and so on.
The CT scan at Stanford showed no brain injury, but my doctor said I had clearly suffered a concussion — he recalled a concussion from his own experience — and that it would be a slow recovery. I’m supposed to take things easy and not push myself. Not easy for me.