Pig! Swine! What’s In a Name?

little-pigCalling somebody a swine is even worse than calling him a pig. A swine is a disgusting, contemptible person. A pig isn’t a nice person either, unless her name is Miss Piggy. And, if she is one of three dear little piggies that give us bacon for breakfast, a ham sandwich for lunch and a nice pork chop for dinner.

Right now, right this very minute we should stop describing the fast-moving current flu, the terrible swine flu. As far as we can tell, though the original sin may be laid at the trotter of a pig that was a long time ago. The current H1N1 virus that is concerning us now is a mutant strain far removed from the original organism.

The trouble is that once a name sticks, it results in all sorts of misunderstandings. Already countries around the world are refusing to import pork products from the United States and Canada. I’m not minimizing the risk. Far from it. The 1918-1919 flu epidemic killed more people than World War I. We know 36,000 people die every year from complications from influenza.  Another 11,000 patients die from respiratory tract infections.

I’m suggesting that it is inflammatory, and in fact, incorrect to use the word ‘swine’ to describe influenza.

Mad cows got a bum rap too. The chance of contracting mad cow disease is one in 10 billion.  This doesn’t mean the risk is zero, but it is perilously close. We are more like to be sickened by our grandmother’s potato salad which has been left out in the hot sun than to be bopped on the head by a crazed drug dealer. Do you know how many bathers are eaten by sharks every year?  Sometimes four, worldwide. The risk of being struck by lightening is 30 times greater than landing up in the jaws of shark. Killer bees are way scarier than bumble bees: 14,408 people are murdered in the U.S. every year. There are 43,000 car accidents every year. And, 26,000 injuries result from squirrels and deer when drivers swerve to avoid hitting them. We live in perilous times.

There are 700,000 physicians in the U.S. Accidental deaths caused by doctors every year is 120,000. Accidental deaths per doctor is 0.171 according the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. So, think about this: the number of gun owners in the U.S. is 80 million. The number of accidental deaths per gun owner is .OOOO188. Therefore doctors are approximately 9,000 times more dangerous than gun owners. We dwell in confusion.

Big Macs and Whoppers are dangerous to our long-term health. Eat only a steady diet of carrots, and the whites of your eyes will turn yellow and your skin orange.

We could prevent many hundreds of incidents of food poisoning if we simply irradiated our ground beef. The word ‘irradiation’ is the hang-up here. If we called it ‘cosmic processing,’ we would be likely to embrace the process and be safer.

We once dreaded ‘pasteurization’. We were told not to walk past the microwave or our hair will fall out and would become impotent (two of the most dreaded afflictions that can befall man). We’ve been told not to lie in the sun, not to use cell phones or we’ll get brain tumors. We are told not to drink coffee. It’s O.K. to drink red wine…and exercise. Here’s another misunderstanding. Some folks think this means a regime in which you jog from bar to bar.

So there are real risks and imagined risks, and risks that stem from misunderstandings and misnomers.  I’m just suggesting we should worry about the current flu, but let’s call a rose a rose and influenza, influenza.

Leave the petits cochons out of it.

One thought on “Pig! Swine! What’s In a Name?

  1. I read that Egypt is thinking of culling all of its pigs even though they have no diagnosed cases of swine flu thus far…does that mean killing them? I have a sinking feeling that it does.

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