Scaring off the coronavirus

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From John Berenberg — "Coronavirus fears empty streets":


  1. Gregory Kusnick said,

    March 3, 2020 @ 2:58 pm

    It's right to fear those empty streets: how's it going to replicate itself without host-to-host contact?

  2. ErikF said,

    March 3, 2020 @ 7:03 pm

    Yesterday I saw a good headline that almost took me on a garden path: "Children of man killed by OC Transpo bus suing city" (, which made me wonder at first how a bus can sue anybody.

  3. Leo said,

    March 3, 2020 @ 9:05 pm

    Rarely is a garden path so easily fixed: 'Coronavirus fear empties streets' does the job.

  4. ajay said,

    March 3, 2020 @ 10:49 pm

    Linguistic efforts from the WHO:

    DO – talk about people “acquiring” or “contracting” #COVID19

    DON'T – talk about people “transmitting COVID-19” “infecting others” or “spreading the virus” as it implies intentional transmission & assigns blame

  5. Philip Taylor said,

    March 3, 2020 @ 11:03 pm

    I am not convinced that the WHO's linguistic advice is beneficial. People need to "take ownership" of their own actions, if further spread of Covid-19 is to be restricted. I have already cancelled participation in two conferences and a trip from Cornwall to Hampshire, Surrey and Kent in order to reduce the risk of introducing the virus into Cornwall, and I would encourage others to think along the same lines if they are not already doing so.

  6. Phillip Helbig said,

    March 3, 2020 @ 11:33 pm

  7. ajay said,

    March 4, 2020 @ 5:12 am

    Essentially everyone I know who has experience working in China is utterly aghast at the WHO report, as it seems to be based on uncritical acceptance of everything the Chinese government says.

  8. Andrew (not the same one) said,

    March 4, 2020 @ 10:50 am

    If 'transmitting' etc. imply intentional transmission, why do 'acquiring' and 'contracting' not imply intentional acquisition?

  9. C said,

    March 4, 2020 @ 8:47 pm

    @Andrew (not the same one)
    "If 'transmitting' etc. imply intentional transmission, why do 'acquiring' and 'contracting' not imply intentional acquisition?"

    Transmitting focuses on the person who gives.
    Acquiring and contracting are more passive (not in the grammatical sense) descriptions of what happens to the recipient/patient.

  10. Philip Taylor said,

    March 5, 2020 @ 1:27 am

    I don't think that really addresses Andrews's question, C. When a patient presents at his or her GP's surgery, even though he/she is the recipient/patient, he/she is there intentionally, not by accident, just as the GP is there intentionally.

    I agree with Andrew — if "transmitting" implies intent, so can "acquiring" (one might well present for vaccination, with the intent of acquiring immunity as a result). And it is not impossible that if (for example) an unwilling conscript were seeking to avoid military service, then he/she might quite intentionally contract some disease that would render them unfit for military service while not being permanently debilitating.

  11. chris said,

    March 5, 2020 @ 4:16 pm

    Interesting Cupertino in the link by Phillip Helbig: the blog post linked to actually is titled the report on "Corvid-19", which is then carried over to Phillip's URL. (The report itself, when clicked through to, does not have the same error.)

    As for the subthread about WHO's verb recommendations, I presume the intentional interpretation of "acquire" is foreclosed by semantic absurdity. It's more plausible to imagine someone nefarious enough to intentionally transmit a potentially dangerous virus than someone with some bizarre and incomprehensible motive to intentionally acquire one.

  12. mg said,

    March 6, 2020 @ 11:19 am

    @ajay – I completely agree. Sadly, WHO is a political organization. They may have some good scientists but the pronouncements come from the political level.

  13. Andrew (not the same one) said,

    March 13, 2020 @ 10:22 am

    I grant that intentional transmitting is marginally more plausible than intentional acquiring, but both are fairly implausible, and I don't think this justifies what the WHO said: they said 'implies', not just 'might possibly suggest', or the like. There is a widespread view that active verbs imply agency, but, here as elsewhere, it doesn't seem to be implied consistently.

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