Effect Measure has an interesting take-down of a post on The Global Language Monitor (GLM), which brings up an interesting point or two.

The GLM is a very strange site which has, as Revere points out, declared itself to be an important go-to place to find out about language trends across the world. I have not decided what I think about this site except when I browse around it it I feel my guard going up, and up and up. In a recent post, the GLM lists cases of inappropriate political correctness. The GLM says “Once again, we are seeing that the attempt to remove all bias from language is itself creating biases of their own” and they point out as the number one example of this … Swine Flu:

Though hundreds of millions know of the current pandemic as Swine Flu, various governments and agencies for political motives ranging from protecting pork producers to religious sensitivity have chosen to address the virus by its formal name, influenza A(H1N1).

… which I take as a statement by GLM that insisting that this not be called the Swine Flu is dumb.

Effect Measure agrees with GLM. (Be careful reading Revere’s post, because although s/he clearly gets what GLM is saying and characterizes it properly, s/he fails to stick with the GLM approved nomenclature; GLM is not saying that “swine flu” is “politically incorrect” … GLM is saying that the identification of Swine Flu as a politically incorrect term is the top Politically un(Correct) lexicographical events of the year. The distinction is important.)

You will remember that the Swine Flu was the Mexican Flu for a while (in the media) but my understanding is that epidemiologists have a rule, though it appears to be unwritten, to not name diseases after places, having done that before and people getting mad at them. For exeample, we no longer call the Spanish Flu that …. we call it the 1918 flu.

The fact that we call “ebola” ebola might be because of our racist western Caucasoidoheteronormative shit-ass attitude (Ebola is a town in Zaiare/Congo) but we also still call “marbug” marburg, and that’s a town in the dead center of Caucasoidoheteronormativeville. So on this one I’m keeping my race card close to the chest.

However, something comes out of this discussion by Revere that I find utterly astonishing. According to Revere, who is always right so I’m not questioning it: The Swine Flu does not have a formal name.

The Swine (nee Mexican) H1N1 novel 2009 flu strain does not have a formal name? Holy crap! Epidemiology or fluology or whatever the appropriate science is does not have a system of naming novel diseases so we can talk about them? One of the fundamentals of science is description, and one of the fundamentals of description is knowing what to call stuff. Hey, there are reasons to wait to name something, to make sure that what you are naming really exists, for instance. But this does exist and has for some time …. and it doesn’t have a name?

Were this a new protein it would have a name. Were this a new gene or allele it would have a name. Were this a new species of matazoan it would have a name. Were this some category of artifact in archaeology, it would have …. six or seven names!!!

So what’s up with that? Can we get a system please? Thanks.

Comments

  1. #1 Lorax
    October 12, 2009

    Actually this seems to be an ongoing occurrence. The Four Corner’s virus (because it was first identified in the fours corners region of the US) had to be renamed because the 6 people in the area raised a stink. So it was renamed Navaho Flu, which of course wasn’t a pleasant association for the Navaho people. Then, I believe, it was named after a river that runs through that area and that was banned to. So the community gave up and named it Sin Nombre virus (the nameless virus). Probably the next round of disagreements will focus on the language a virus is not named in.

  2. #2 revere
    October 12, 2009

    LOL. You lazy anthropologists/archaeologists! You have six or seven names for a category of artifact? What’s up with that? How about a formal naming system. Is that so hard?

  3. #3 Greg Laden
    October 12, 2009

    Revere: Ha! I didn’t say it was going to be easy!!!

    Lorax, I was trying to remember that exact case to use as an example. The switch from Four Corners to Navaho had, as I recall, a twist as well… like the person who came up with that idea was Hopi (I don’t recall exactly).

  4. #4 abb3w
    October 12, 2009

    Why don’t we name it “Wilbur”?

  5. #5 Sean
    October 13, 2009

    Keep track of the latest swine flu vaccine developments as and when they happen at Swine Flu Britain