Archive for Language and medicine

Once again the Voynich manuscript

This is one of the most novel theories on the Voynich manuscript (Beinecke MS408; early 15th c.) that I've ever encountered, and there are many.

The Voynich Manuscript, Dr Johannes Hartlieb and the Encipherment of Women’s Secrets, by Keagan Brewer and Michelle L Lewis, Social History of Medicine, hkad099 (22 March 2024)

Keywords:  Voynich manuscript, Dr Johannes Hartlieb, women’s secrets, sex, gynaecology

A floral illustration on page 32

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Digital Humanities for the study of traditional Asian medicines

A guest post for The Digital Orientalist (4/10/24), under The Magic of Philology and Indexing, Polyglot Asian Medicines (Foundational Resources and Digital Tools), by Michael Stanley-Baker, Christopher S.G. Khoo and Faizah Zakariah (all three are based at academic institutions in Singapore), "Tracking Drug Names Across Language, Time, Space and Knowledge Domains to Produce New Visions of Traditional Medicine".

This is a richly detailed article with many links and citations.  I will not attempt to cover, much less extensively quote, lengthy portions.  Instead, I will begin with the authors' general introduction, note the main sections of the article, refer to the graphs, and quote one typical section to show what the authors' approach can accomplish.

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Feeling wet

Yesterday in one of my classes, a female student from China said that she didn't like to exercise in the morning because she felt "wet".  At first, I couldn't believe my ears, so I asked her, "Did you say 'wet'?"  "Yes," she said, "wet".  I couldn't understand in what way she would feel "wet" in the morning and how that would prevent her from doing exercises.

We wouldn't use the English word "wet" to describe a morning condition that would discourage us from doing exercises, so I tried to think of other related words (synonyms or near-synonyms for "wet") that would work better.  "Logy"? "sodden"? "heavy"?  But I couldn't come up with any equivalent words that would fit the bill.  I specifically was disinclined to choose the word "shī 濕", which literally does mean "wet", but didn't believe that's what she meant because it would signify something like "drenched", "dripping", "soaked", not a systemic condition of the body, unless it means something in traditional Chinese medicine that I'm not aware of.

I puzzled over this conundrum for a while without making any significant progress, so today I sent her an e-mail asking the following question:  "What Chinese word / concept did you have in mind when you said you felt 'wet' in the morning"?

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Elle Cordova puts a beat on medicinal rat-a-tat

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AI-assisted substitute vocal cords

This is what the device looks like and how it is made:

Jun Chen Lab/UCLA
The two components — and five layers — of the device allow it to turn muscle
movement into electrical signals which, with the help of machine learning,
are ultimately converted into speech signals and audible vocal expression.

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Opacity of the week: all pills $11.95

That's the sign on the door of a gas station that I saw in Media, Delaware County, Pennsylvania.  It had pictures of four different packages of pills, but the lettering on them was so blurred that I couldn't see what types or brands of pills they were.



That was the only sign on the door, and it was very prominent:  right in the center of the door as you entered.  As I stepped inside the store, I was wondering mightily:  why are they selling you pills when they don't tell you what kind of pills they are?

After going inside and paying for my gas, I asked the two female attendants, who were all dressed up in holiday attire, what kind of pills they were, both of them said in unison, "male enhancement", as though they had rehearsed the answer hundreds of times.  I was embarrassed and so were they, so I got out as fast as I could.

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Advanced lexicography for diabetes in Japan and China

This is a followup to "Japanese words that are dying out: focus on diabetes" (11/21/23).  Because it's history of science / medicine for specialists and too technical for the majority of readers, I will not provide transcriptions for all but a few of the most common terms.

[The following is a guest post from Nathan Hopson]

Google doesn't have data for a Japanese ngram search, but here are the oldest results from searches of the National Diet Library (NDL) and the Asahi and Yomiuri newspapers:
Translated by 森鼻宗次 (Morihana Sōji).
Original authors listed as:
ゼオルヂービウード (George B. Wood)
ヘンリーハルツホールン (Henry Hartshorne)
Penn grad Hartshorne spent time in Japan, and wrote Wood's memoir; Wood was also a Penn grad
Looks like the original text of this book was Wood's, selected and edited by Hartshorne? Wood and Harsthorne were both very prolific, and I can't easily tell which text has been translated.

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Japanese words that are dying out: focus on diabetes

From The Japan Times:

A foray into the realm of Japanese ‘dead words’

Trendy buzzwords tend to be most at risk of dying out as they often reflect ideas and trends that are fleeting.

By Tadasu Takahashi
Staff writer
Oct 31, 2023

Sometimes whole languages go extinct, more often certain words within languages cease to exist as part of the living lexicon.  There are political, demographic, and other socioeconomic reasons why languages disappear.  The reasons why individual words die out are related more to fashion — in culture, science, and similar emotional and intellectual reasons.

Tadasu Takahashi's interesting article provides some specific examples from contemporary Japanese language.

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Rivers and lakes: quackery

Get ready to go a-wanderin'.  I'll take you down to the rivers and lakes, and we shall lose ourselves in them, get lost from the hurlyburly hustlebustle of the mundane world.  That's what jiānghú 江湖 ("rivers and lakes") is all about.  It's where you go to xiāoyáo yóu 逍遙遊 ("wander freely / carefreely / leisurely").

The first occurrence of jiānghú 江湖 in traditional Chinese literature is to be found in the Zhuāng Zǐ 莊子 ("Master Zhuang") (late 4th-early 3rd BC), which happens to be my favorite work of ancient Chinese literature:

Quán hé, yú xiāngyǔ chǔ yú lù, xiāng xǔ yǐ shī, xiāng rú yǐ mò, bùrú xiāngwàng yú jiānghú.


"When springs dry up, fish huddle together on the land. They blow moisture on each other and keep each other wet with their slime.  But it would be better if they could forget themselves in the rivers and lakes."

VHM, tr., Wandering on the Way:  Early Taoist Tales and Parables of Chuang Tzu (New York:  Bantam, 1994), p. 53.

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Sinological formatting

I recently received this book:

Sūn Sīmiǎo, Sabine Wilms.  Healing Virtue-Power: Medical Ethics and the Doctor's Dao.  Whidbey Island WA:  Happy Goat Productions, 2022.

ISBN:  978-1-7321571-9-4


As soon as I started to leaf through the volume, I was struck by its unusual format and usages:  every Chinese character is accompanied by Hanyu Pinyin phonetic annotation with tones, and all terms and sentences are translated into English.  But that's just the beginning; after introducing the original author and the translator, I will point out additional features of this remarkable, praiseworthy monograph.

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Perfect translation

Meme online from a Chinese forum (fortunately I have a screenshot). Hilarious, but sad, though, considering China’s reported covid conditions.

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Pandemic lockdown slogans

The photographs below are of government lockdown slogans on signs in Chinese cities.  The first was taken by a former student of mine in Guangzhou, and the other two are from Weibo.

In the first photograph, the last line is so awkward that if seems ungrammatical and barely makes sense.  As shown in the following analysis, it's the result of a forced rhyme.

1., 2. (left, right)

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Kids' song: "Let's do nucleic acid"

The subtitles explain what's going on:

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