Wednesday, May 24, 2017

This Week: More on Disease Names on the Podcast + Old English

Old English
Many people refer to any older form of English as “Old English,” but this is properly a technical term for Anglo-Saxon, the original language in which Beowulf was written. Norman French combined with Old English to create Middle English, one form of which was used by Geoffrey Chaucer to write The Canterbury Tales. By Shakespeare’s time the language is modern English, though it may seem antique to modern readers who aren’t used to it.

There are many “Old English” typefaces which have nothing to do with the Old English language.


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Wednesday, May 17, 2017

This Week: More on Disease Names on the Podcast + disease names

disease names
The medical profession has urged since the 1970s the dropping of the possessive S at the end of disease names which were originally named after their discoverers (“eponymous disease names”). The possessive is thought to confuse people by implying that the persons named actually had the disease. Thus “Ménière’s syndrome” became “Ménière syndrome,” Bright’s disease” became “Bright disease” and “Asperger’s syndrome” became “Asperger syndrome.”

But the public has not always followed this rule. “Alzheimer disease” is still widely called “Alzheimer’s disease” or just “Alzheimer’s.” Only among professionals is this really considered a mistake.

“Down syndrome,” named after John Langdon Down—originally written “Down’s syndrome”—has been so often mistakenly written without its apostrophe as “Downs syndrome” that many people conclude that the syndrome’s discoverer must have been named “Downs.”
Although some professionals write “Huntington disease”—originally “Huntington’s chorea”—many still write “Huntington’s.” But another popular name for this illness is “Woody Guthrie’s disease” because the folksinger actually had it, though one also occasionally sees “Woody Guthrie disease.”

Lou Gehrig’s disease, named after its most famous sufferer, always bears an apostrophe-S because professionals prefer the rather more cumbersome but nonpossessive “amyotrophic lateral sclerosis” (ALS).

The best practice is to follow the pattern prevalent in your social context. If you are a medical professional, you’ll probably want to avoid the possessive forms.

“Legionnaires’ disease” has its apostrophe at the end of the first word because it was first recognized among a group of American Legion members celebrating the American Bicentennial. Specialists consider it a severe form of Legionellosis, caused by the bacterium Legionella pneumophila.

Lyme disease should never be written “Lyme’s disease” because it is not named after a person at all, but after the village of Lyme, Connecticut.


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Wednesday, May 10, 2017

This Week: Disease Names on the Podcast + frankly

frankly
Sentences beginning with this word are properly admissions of something shocking or unflattering to the speaker; but when a public spokesperson for a business or government is speaking, it almost always precedes a self-serving statement. “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn” is correct; but “Frankly, I think the American people can make their own decisions about health care” is an abuse of language. The same contortion of meaning is common in related phrases. When you hear a public figure say, “to be completely honest with you,” expect a lie.

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https://commonerrorspodcast.wordpress.com/

On the podcast this week, we talk about antiquated disease names.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

This Week: More Contranyms on the Podcast + scan/skim

scan/skim
Those who insist that “scan” can never be a synonym of “skim” have lost the battle. It is true that the word originally meant “to scrutinize,” but it has now evolved into one of those unfortunate words with two opposite meanings: to examine closely (now rare) and to glance at quickly (much more common). It would be difficult to say which of these two meanings is more prominent in the computer-related usage, to “scan a document.”

That said, it’s more appropriate to use “scan” to label a search for specific information in a text, and “skim” to label a hasty reading aimed at getting the general gist of a text. 




Wednesday, April 26, 2017

This Week: More Contranyms on the Podcast + on the contraire/au contraire, on the contrary, to the contrary

on the contraire/au contraire, on the contrary, to the contrary
People who like to show off their French sometimes use the expression au contraire when they mean “on the contrary” or “to the contrary.” People who don’t know any better mix up French and English by saying “on the contraire.”

“On the contrary” is the earliest form. It means “it’s the opposite”: “I thought you liked sweet pickles.” “On the contrary, I prefer dills.”

“To the contrary” means “to the opposite effect,” “in opposition”: “No matter what my neighbor says to the contrary, I think it’s his dog that’s been pooping on my petunias.”




Wednesday, April 19, 2017

This Week: More Contranyms on the Podcast + fit the bill/fill the bill

fit the bill/fill the bill
Originally a “bill” was any piece of writing, especially a legal document (we still speak of bills being introduced into Congress in this sense). More narrowly, it also came to mean a list such as a restaurant “bill of fare” (menu) or an advertisement listing attractions in a theatrical variety show such as might be posted on a “billboard.” In 19th-century America, when producers found short acts to supplement the main attractions, nicely filling out an evening’s entertainment, they were said in a rhyming phrase to “fill the bill.” People who associate bills principally with shipping invoices frequently transform this expression, meaning “to meet requirements or desires,” into “fit the bill.” They are thinking of bills as if they were orders, lists of requirements. It is both more logical and more traditional to say “fill the bill.”

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

This Week: Contranyms on the Podcast + mute point/moot point

mute point/moot point
“Moot” is a very old word related to “meeting,” specifically a meeting where serious matters are discussed. Oddly enough, a moot point can be a point worth discussing at a meeting (or in court)—an unresolved question—or it can be the opposite: a point already settled and not worth discussing further. At any rate, “mute point” is simply wrong, as is the less common “mood point.”


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