“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”
– Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)
There’s been a lot of talk this week amongst politicians and various interest groups about needing a new name for the swine flu currently spreading across the planet.
The first I’d heard about a desire to, of all things, rebrand a sometimes-lethal potential pandemic flu strain was on Monday, when the Israeli Deputy Health Minister Yakov Litzman said that swine flu should be re-named “Mexican flu,” because reference to pigs is offensive to Muslim and Jewish sensitivities over pork. While I understand the religious ban on pork in both faiths, I confess I don’t really understand why the term “swine flu” is that offensive—after all, it’s not exactly something you’re hoping to get anyway, right?
I can understand why some things that people want but might not like to call by their proper name get the cushion of a euphemism or catchier sounding name. Take Botox, for example. Lots of people want it for cosmetic reasons; so many now, in fact, that there’s really no stigma associated with getting Botox treatments (unless you go all Nicole Kidman, that is…) But what is Botox a short form trade name for?
Botulinum toxin. Yeah, that’s right. A potent neurotoxin used for cosmetic purposes. Now what sounds better: “You look great since your Botox treatment!” or “Wow, those injections of botulinum toxin in your face really worked great!”
My point exactly.
But with swine flu isn’t it the other way around? You want to avoid getting the disease, so why dress it up in a bland-sounding name? “Mexican flu” sounds like a euphemism for a tequila-induced hangover. “Swine flu” sounds ugly and nasty and, well, it is. If you do come down with this flu strain you have a lot more problems to worry about than what it’s called, don’t you think?
Needless to say, Mexico didn’t take kindly to this suggestion, feeling that “Mexican flu” was a bit more offensive to them than “swine flu”. This I actually can understand: Mexico doesn’t want to be blamed for the sickness, panic, and death so far associated with this new influenza. The Mexicans have suggested “North American flu”, but why tar all of us with that brush? Why blame people when you can just blame pigs?
But then on Wednesday we learned that groups representing the pork industry — including the Canadian Pork Council, the World Organization for Animal Health, the American National Pork Producers Council, the National Pork Board and the American Meat Institute (mmm…meat institute…) — have all been in talks with the US Agriculture Department asking officials to discourage the name “swine flu” and to reassure the public that pork is safe.
“We’re discussing, is there a better way to describe this that would not lead to inappropriate actions on people’s part?” said Dr. Richard Besser, acting director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “In the public, we’ve been seeing a fair amount of misconception … and that’s not helpful.”
It’s impossible to get pig strains of influenza from food, but nevertheless by last weekend China, Russia and Ukraine were banning imports of pork from Mexico and certain U.S. states, and other governments were increasing screening of pork imports.
Again, this need for a change makes sense: the term swine flu is leading to confusion, with people fearing they can catch the disease from pork — which is flat-out wrong.
So what alternatives are we left with?
Well, as of Wednesday the US government and President Obama had taken to calling the outbreak “the H1N1 flu virus”–which, while its correct technical scientific name, doesn’t really have any poetry to it. (And somebody should tell the Centers for Disease Control to get with the program…)
European Union officials have suggested calling the disease “novel flu.”
…NOW WAIT JUST A DAMNED MINUTE.
“Novel flu”? Are you trying to pin this on writers now? Hmmm… What kind of writers would spin a yarn about an animal virus mutating to infect humans and cause a global pandemic? Could it be science fiction writers?
You’re not pinning this one on us, bucko! No way. No how. We get enough grief and lack of respect for writing SF in the first place—we don’t need your help to be literary or social pariahs, thank you very much…
So, what are we left with?
Swine flu? Out.
Mexican flu? No mas.
North American flu? Thank you, no.
The H1N1 flu virus? Boooring…
Which brings us to my suggestion:
It’s Spanish for ‘the flu’ (thus hinting at the Mexican connection without pointing any fingers) but much like ‘the Plague’ and ‘Cher’ it has that one-name-says-it-all ominousness to it.
Whaddya think? Doesn’t it just pop?
I’m glad we’re agreed.
Via El Gripe!
Err, wait, no…