Archive for Language and medicine

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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The complexities of a basic word for "barbarian" in Sinitic and neighboring languages

There are scores of words in Sinitic languages that regularly get translated into English as "barbarian".  One of the most conspicuous and pervasive is hú 胡, which we have often discussed on Language Log, perhaps most extensively and intensively in "The bearded barbarian" (8/26/15), with detailed etymological, orthographical, morphological, and philological notes.

The term came up again more recently in "'Carrot' in Persian, Urdu, Uyghur, Sinitic, Vietnamese, etc." (6/26/20), where we found it as the distinctive modifier of the Sinitic word for "carrot" (húluóbo 胡蘿蔔 / 胡萝卜).

[N.B.:  Several of my most respected colleagues in Chinese Studies do not permit their students to translate hú 胡 or any of the other Sinitic terms for non-Sinitic peoples as "barbarian".]

In reading PRC written materials, one must be wary of all the words in Modern Standard Mandarin (MSM) that are written with hú 胡, since the character simplification promoted by the communist government has collapsed at least six other traditional characters into this one (see here), the most interesting of which is the first syllable hemimorpheme of the Sinitic word for "butterfly" (húdié 蝴蝶 / 胡蝶), cf., "'Butterfly' words as a source of etymological confusion" (1/28/16).

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Concentric circles of language in Beijing, part 2

From a Penn graduate student who recently returned to his home in Beijing, of which he is a born and bred native:

I'm now back at home in Beijing after a 14-day self-quarantine in Tianjin, which was designated as one of the 12 cities to receive all diverted international flights to Beijing because of imported coronavirus concerns. It was an unforgettable journey and a special experience to get back to China this time. I was surrounded by passengers wearing coverall medical protective suits and had been tested body temperature countless times, which, together with all other temporary measures by no matter travelers, crew members, or customs staff, reminded me of how the ongoing pandemic has changed the world and every single person's life. I have been tested negative for the coronavirus twice as required after I arrived in China, and everything has been going well.

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Pandemic pun

Of the hundreds of pandemic memes that come to me, this is one that I didn't fully understand when I first received it:

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Heirs to the dragon / cage

Circulating on social media:

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Singapore circuit breakers

From a colleague in Singapore:

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Coronavirus slang and the rapid evolution of English

People describe the experience of living through COVID-19 lockdowns and extreme social distancing as being "weird", "strange", "unsettling", "disturbing", and so on.  As such, the current circumstances give rise to all sorts of new expressions to express their feelings and activities which are so different from "normal" times, one of the most common terms for what we're going through often being called "the new normal".

Jason Kottke, meister of one of the most venerable blogs, kottke.org, has written about these changes in "Covid-19 Slang and How Language Evolves Quickly in Stressful Times" (5/13/20). He draws on two other articles.  From Tony Thorne's "#CORONASPEAK – the language of Covid-19 goes viral – 2", language and innovation (4/15/20), he garners the following:

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