Author Archive: theterrymurray

Word Watch: device: an ‘absurdly vague’ term • Vote for an alternative!

Credit: Rawpixel

Credit: Rawpixel

Not strictly medical, but relevant:

Ottawa journalist Dan Gardner issued a challenge on Twitter the other day, urging his followers to help him come up with an alternative term to “device” to designate … devices … like smart phones and tablets.

“We need a label for iPads and the rest that isn’t the absurdly vague ‘device,’ Gardner wrote. “I like ‘combadge’ because geek. But open to suggestions.” Continue reading →

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Word Watch: fruitloopery

Credit: drjohn08318

Credit: drjohn08318

Fruitloopery — the improper or ignorant use of scientific or technical language to make a false or impossible claim seem more believable — is the latest addition to the lexicon by Canada’s Word Spy, Paul McFedries.

It comes from the use of the term “fruit loop” as a “whimsical way of describing someone who is a bit crazy, scatterbrained, or weird,” which has been used in that sense since at least 1982, McFedries wrote on his WordSpy website.  McFedries says it  “likely” comes from the Kellogg’s cereal  Froot Loops (but I ask you: where else would it have come from?), with a boost from associations with the word loopy, meaning crazy or bizarre. Continue reading →

Ebola fears infect tropical medicine conference; state officials cite “abundance of caution”

Credit: Balint Radu

Credit: Balint Radu

To be clear: it’s not the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (ASTMH) that has problems with delegates from Ebola-affected countries who might actually shed some light on the epidemic at its annual meeting in New Orleans this week.

It’s the State of Louisiana that has pulled the welcome mat.

As reported today (3 November) in the Chronicle of Higher Education and elsewhere, the state sent a letter to conference registrants (through the ASTMH) last week asking anyone who has even visited the affected West African countries to stay away. Continue reading →

Cancer: ‘bravery and fighting have nothing to do with it’

wwbravelyfightingIn his recent list of the “top 10 most fatuous phrases in the English language,” Rod Liddle, the somewhat controversial associate editor of The Spectator, included at #7, “bravely fighting cancer.”

“An odious phrase, patronizing and meaningless,” Liddle wrote. “All people with cancer are bravely fighting the vile disease. All people with cancer who have decided not to fight it, but instead to acquiesce, are also brave — perhaps even more brave. In truth, ‘bravery’ and ‘fighting’ have nothing to do with it.”~TM

Neat trick on Ebola ‘announcement,’ Chris Alexander! What are you afraid of?

Canadian Immigration Minister Chris Alexander • Screen grab from CTV National News

Canadian Immigration Minister Chris Alexander • Screen grab from CTV National News

Yesterday — Friday 31 October, Halloween — Canadian Immigration Minister Chris Alexander “announced” that Canada was temporarily halting issuing visas to people coming here from Ebola-stricken West African nations.

Except the nature of his “announcement” was puzzling. It was contained in a blandly-headed news release (“Protecting the Health and Safety of Canadians”), issued late in the day (it arrived in my inbox at 5.50pm), by which time Alexander was not available for comment, even if his handlers in the PMO had allowed him to speak.

This is a typical tactic of the Conservative government, but what makes it particularly noteworthy is that the release was issued after Alexander had held a 15-minute news conference on immigration policy, during which he didn’t mention the policy change, according to a report by CTV National News.

Why is the Government of Canada afraid to take ownership of this policy decision? Continue reading →

Etymology of Ebola

Credit: bradcalkins

Credit: bradcalkins

The catastrophic outbreak of Ebola virus in western Africa and the questionable quality of the response by Western “donor” countries has filled newspapers, magazines and broadcast media, not to mention the Internet, for the last several months.

Some of the coverage has reviewed the short life of medicine’s awareness of the virus which was discovered in 1976 by a team of scientists including Dr. Peter Piot, currently director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

Now, Dr. Allan Metcalf (PhD), professor of English at MacMurray College in Jacksonville, Ill., has decided to revisit the origin of the word “Ebola” in the Lingua Franca blog of  The Chronicle of Higher Education. Continue reading →

Word Watch: Ebolaphobia

Credit: gustavofrazao

Credit: gustavofrazao

Canada’s Word Spy Paul McFedries has flagged “Ebolaphobia” as a new entry to the lexicon.

Perhaps no surprise there, given the dominance of Ebola in the news, but what’s strange about this entrant is that it’s practically brand new. Like the compilers of the Oxford English Dictionary, McFedries logs citations for the words he spies — and in this case, the earliest citation is mere months ago.

According to McFedries, the first use was on 31 July on the website HPANWO Voice which is described as a forum for the HPANWO to review global news and trends. Continue reading →

If you have a need for speed, use a paper planner instead of a digital diary

Credit: Eugenio Marongiu

Credit: Eugenio Marongiu

In a small, highly unscientific study, Financial Times columnist Lucy Kellaway has found that using an electronic calendar is more time-consuming than a paper diary.

She asked two groups of friends (n unknown) what they were doing on 30 October. The quickest electronic users — after typing a password into their smartphones and doing ” a good deal of jabbing” — answered in 17 seconds, although others took as long as 32 seconds. The fans of paper diaries opened their books to the relevant page in eight seconds.

That gap widened when Kellaway asked them to enter a lunch date. Smartphone users took 30 seconds; paper users took a mere five seconds. Continue reading →

Quotable: ‘Issues’ — “One of our era’s most favored and versatile euphemisms”

issuesslash“What on earth has happened to the word ‘issues,’ that lowly, dutiful, and colorless bureaucrat of a noun? How did such a businesslike and antiseptically neutral word, the semantic equivalent of the man in the grey flannel suit, become transformed into one of our era’s most favored and most versatile euphemisms—a politely opaque nugget of soothing and pseudo-insightful psychobabble, liberally used by talk-show hosts and social-services types, a word whose reticent and clinically rational demeanor artfully conceals the ungenerous and often highly judgmental spirit in which it is so often offered? Continue reading →

Racism in medicine: The case of spirometry

Credit: Glenda Powers

Credit: Glenda Powers

If it is possible for a piece of medical equipment to be racist, the spirometer may hold that questionable distinction.

That is the suggestion of Dr. Lundy Braun (PhD), professor of Africana Studies and pathology and laboratory medicine at Brown University. She explores the history of the spirometer, its racist uses and continuing “race correction” in Breathing Race into the Machine: The Surprising Career of the Spirometer from Plantation to Genetics.

In a recent interview in The Atlantic, Dr. Braun noted that spirometry was used in the 1860s to show that black slaves in the U.S. had lower lung capacity than whites. The first large study purportedly showing racial differences was conducted in Union soldiers, directed by Benjamin Apthorp Gould, and published in 1869.

“Lung capacity difference was a deeply entrenched idea by the late 19th century,” she said. Continue reading →

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