Archive for Language and medicine

Indigenous languages and medicinal knowledge

New article in Mongabay (the critter in the banner at the top of the page who serves as their logo reminds me of our little friend, the gecko):

"Extinction of Indigenous languages leads to loss of exclusive knowledge about medicinal plants", by Sibélia Zanon on 20 September 2021 | Translated by Maya Johnson

Key points:

  • A study at the University of Zurich in Switzerland shows that a large proportion of existing medicinal plant knowledge is linked to threatened Indigenous languages. In a regional study on the Amazon, New Guinea and North America, researchers concluded that 75% of medicinal plant uses are known in only one language.
  • The study evaluated 645 plant species in the northwestern Amazon and their medicinal uses, according to the oral tradition of 37 languages. It found that 91% of this knowledge exists in a single language, and that the extinction of that language implies the loss of the medicinal knowledge as well.
  • In Brazil, Indigenous schools hold an important role in preserving languages alongside cataloguing and revitalization projects like those held by the Karitiana people in Rondônia and the Pataxó in Bahia and Minas Gerais.

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Magical Penis Wine

Victor Steinbok reports:

This made the rounds on Reddit a few times. The screenshot of a 2019 Reddit thread popped up on my FB feed today. It might even come in white and red 😈


Source:  NV Debao Winery Magical Penis Wine

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Bezoar

Yesterday I went to Philadelphia's famed Mütter Museum at the College of Physicians.  I hadn't been there for about 35 years, so it was nice to reacquaint myself with some favored old exhibits (human beings with long horns growing out of their forehead, fetuses at all stages of formation and deformation, bodies with extra heads and limbs, gigantic tumors and colons, etc.), though a few of the most famous items had disappeared (e.g., shrunken heads, apparently because they had been "unethically procured").

One of the most striking exhibits — for me, since most people probably would not pay much, if any attention to it — was the one about bezoars.  They are nondescript objects that look like stony balls.  Even in section, they are not very exciting to look at, because they are basically a hard, indigestible mass of material such as hair, plant fibers, or seeds that form in the stomach or intestines of animals, especially ruminants, sometimes also humans.

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Fully vaccinated or not in English, French, and Chinese

Sign in Vancouver International Airport:


Segregated line-ups for vaccinated and unvaccinated international arrivals at Vancouver International Airport. Photo by Andrew Aziz. (Source)

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Vaccines that do a good job of not preventing disease and death

"We Need To Get Real About How the Pandemic Will End:  Even more transmissible new variants means that more people will get infected or vaccinated, and that's how it will all end".  By Zeynep, Insight (5/28/21):

[A]s far as I can tell from vast amounts of trial and real life evidence, every single vaccine out there does a very very good job against preventing severe disease and death.

If what Zeynep says about "every single vaccine out there" is true, we are destined for some dire end times indeed.

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An Austronesian word for "betel"

On Joshua Yang's Twitter (@joshiunn):

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Merriam-Webster gives "vaccine" a new definition

Prefatory note:  In this post, I take the noun "vaccine" as the basic word under discussion, but also consider other cognate terms ("vaccinate", "vaccination").

Here's a standard dictionary entry for "vaccine":

n.

1. any preparation of weakened or killed bacteria or viruses introduced into the body to prevent a disease by stimulating antibodies against it.
2. the virus of cowpox, used in vaccination, obtained from pox vesicles of a cow or person.
3. a software program that helps to protect against computer viruses.

[1800–05; < New Latin (variolae)vaccīnae cowpox = vacc(a) cow + -īnae, feminine pl. of -īnus -ine]

Random House Kernerman Webster's College Dictionary

(cited)

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The five don'ts of novel coronavirus vaccination in Hainan, China

A notice issued in Wancheng, a town in Hainan Province on March 31 warning people of consequences if they refuse to take vaccines. (Screenshot via Weibo)

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Myopia in the Middle Kingdom

Latest chapter of the perpetual litany against the epidemic of nearsightedness in the homeland of sinograms:

"China rolls out mandatory national standards to prevent myopia among students", Zhang Jinruo, People's Daily (3/16/21)

The abnormally high incidence of myopia among Chinese children has been noted and bemoaned for decades. Governments have repeatedly declared war on nearsightedness.  Here's today's installment:

A set of mandatory national standards on juvenile myopia prevention was put into practice in China since March 1, requiring all school supplies to meet myopia prevention criterions, from paper materials such as text books, to classroom lighting and multimedia teaching systems.

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Phlegm

My sister Heidi and I agree that, though we dislike the substance, we like the word.  Somehow, the shape and sound of the word are captivating.  "Phlegm", with its five consonants and one vowel, rolls up out of your throat, flows across your tongue, and issues forth through your lips.  "Phlegm"!  What a singular word!

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Vaccine Efficiency?

Recently, two vaccine companies have presented evidence that their vaccines are respectively “90% effective” and “94½% effective”. True or False: Assuming these results hold up, the chances are respectively 9 in 10 (945 in 1,000) that if you get vaccinated you won’t get Covid? If you said True you are both woefully mistaken and doubtless far from alone. The articles report that the same large number of people got the vaccine and a placebo and of the first 95 people to show up with the disease 90% (94½%) came from the group that didn’t get the vaccine. In other words, if you got the disease the chances are 9 in 10 you didn’t get the vaccine. That is not the same thing as: if you got the vaccine the chances are 9 in 10 you didn’t get the disease.

Hypothetically — to make the arithmetic easy, but not unrealistically — suppose the number of volunteers in each group was 10,000 and of the first hundred people to get the disease 10 got the vaccine and 90 the placebo. Thus 90% of the infected folks came from the placebo group and it is reported that the vaccine was “90% effective”. If 90% effective means that 90% of vaccinated people didn’t get the disease and 10% got the disease, we have to look at the fraction of people who got the vaccine and also got the disease, which was 10 divided by 10,000 or .001, i.e., .1%, one tenth of one percent, not 10%.

Suppose, now, in an alternative experiment the experimenters had waited longer, until they had, not 100 but 1,000, infected volunteers and the same ratio of vaccine-to-placebo held: 900 infected volunteers from the placebo group and 100 from the vaccinated group. Then the fraction of people vaccinated who got the disease would be 100 divided by 10,000 or .01 or 1%, ten times as great as in the earlier experiment with only 100 infected volunteers, despite the ratio of vaccinated to placebo volunteers in the infected group remaining the same. The ratio of vaccinated to unvaccinated people in the infected group bears no direct relation to the probability that vaccination prevents infection. In the words of the drug companies, the vaccine would be 90% effective in both experiments, whereas nether experiment suggests anything like what most people would take “90% effective” to mean. The drug companies are evidently very good at creating vaccines and disastrous at talking about them.

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Some COVID-19 research with a linguistic angle

Researchers looking at infectious disease transmission found that loud speech is more of a problem than coughing and sneezing, and this was true regardless of the language spoken (English, Spanish, Mandarin, or Arabic).

Aerosol emission and superemission during human speech increase with voice loudness

    Sima Asadi, Anthony S. Wexler, Christopher D. Cappa, Santiago Barreda, Nicole M. Bouvier & William D. Ristenpart

Nature, Scientific Reports, volume 9, Article number: 2348 (2019)

With 5 charts

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“What’s it to you if I use my uterus or not?”

The actress Qin Lan, who is best known for her role in the wildly popular TV drama "Story of Yanxi Palace", said this in an interview:

“People have been asking me why I’m not getting married, and some have even suggested it’s ‘irresponsible’ if I don’t have a baby. I think it’s strange.

“What’s it to you if I use my uterus or not?”

That line went viral, garnering its own hashtag on Weibo (the Chinese equivalent of Twitter).

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