Sunday, May 11, 2008

A salute to deprecated diseases

It occurs to me that dramatic (or even poetic) eloquence is lost in the field of pathology (not to mention in medical science altogether). One of the most salient illustrations of this is how we name the diseases that harrass us. This came to me as I was chatting with a friend and happened to mention "dropsy" (I forget the exact context; sorry). In attempting to field his understandably quizzical look, I got the idea for this post.

Here a few of my favorite elegant-sounding-yet-unpleasant-in-reality conditions:

  1. Consumption: known today as "tuberculosis". The old name characterizes its debilitating nature much more aptly.

  2. Dropsy (mentioned above): now referred to as "edema". The current moniker is not as sexy, but it doesn't sound like the name of a child's doll either.

  3. Pleurisy: this one is still in common parlance, but it sounds pretty like the others. The folk etymologist in me wants to note the similarity to the French word for "cry" (pleurer); to be sure, having this condition would make one cry, but alas the morphological similarity is purely coincidental.

Seems to me most diseases have names which are either so long and Latinate that they have to be stated as acronyms or initials; one example happens to be the longest recognized word in the English language (""Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis"); or else, they are pithy, woefully imprecise and downright boring ("cold"). Guess once again we are reminded that science and the humanities do not mix all that well. Too bad...

Thursday, May 1, 2008

You know you're a librarian when...

While I was listening to NPR this evening, a story about rice growers in Thailand caught my attention briefly: according to the story, such a collaboration would be analogous to "OPEC". I was struck by the announcer's seemingly incorrect pronunciation, which occured several times. (It's OPAC, not OPEC, dimwit! Get it right!)

Ahem....OPAC is library-speak for Online Public Access Catalog. Guess the joke's on me...