In yesterday’s NYT (and in many other news sources) we learn of an admonishment from the World Health Organization (in “W.H.O. Urges More Care in Naming Diseases” by Rick Gladstone) to avoid animal names, place names, people’s names, and names of groups or organizations in naming diseases — earnest advice that’s going to be hard to follow, since it seems to lead to names that are either short but opaque or cumbersomely long though informative.
Archive for the ‘Language and medicine’ Category
At lunch one day last week, I realized that almost all the people around me (all men, Silicon Valley types talking about Silicon Valley matters, so far as I could tell) were jiggling their legs, apparently without any realization they were doing so. I’ve long been familiar with the behavior, though never in such a concentrated form; it was like I had fallen into a convention of leg-jigglers. (I am not one.)
Quite a number of variants: some one-legged (mostly the left, in this small accidental sample), some two-legged; and some subtle, a light bouncing off the ball of the foot, and others more vigorous, up to one guy who was pumping his left leg extravagantly.
Unfortunately, not a whole lot seems to be known about leg-jiggling / leg jiggling, leg shaking, foot jiggling, or sewing-machine leg, as it is variously known.
My latest affliction is tennis elbow, inflammation of a tendon on the outside of an elbow, usually set off by repeated use of the joint (as in playing tennis, working as a carpenter, or the like), but often, as in my current situation, of obscure origin. (Discussion of tennis elbow on this blog here.) My right elbow went from being mildly sore yesterday to suddenly becoming excruciatingly painful. I’ve rested it for quite some time (and treated the elbow with cold), and the problem has retreated enough for me to be able to raise my arm some, cautiously.
Friends have been commiserating with me, and one — Max Meredith Vasilatos — passed on a Mark Anderson cartoon for the occasion:
(One earlier Andertoon on this blog, #2 in this 10/14/13 posting.)
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.