Sciency Words: Covidiot

Hello, friends, and welcome to Sciency Words!  Sciency Words is a special series here on Planet Pailly where we take a closer look at science or science-related terminology.  Today’s Sciency Word is:


As you might imagine based on this Sciency Words series, as well as other things I’ve written, I love language.  I enjoy learning about why language works, why it sometimes does not work, and all the processes by which language changes over time.

One of my favorite linguists is Anne Curzan of the University of Michigan.  She’s written books and articles about language.  She hosts a radio show about language, and she’s a member of the American Heritage Dictionary’s usage panel.  She did a wonderful TED Talk called “What Makes a Word ‘Real’?” and her Great Courses series “The Secret Life of Words” is one of my favorite things to listen to on long drives.

Curzan often talks about how people like to play with language.  Some might dismiss such playfulness as slang, but really it’s a natural aspect of language usage.  And so when a friend recently introduced me to the word “covidiot,” I immediately thought of the things Curzan has said.  Here are people being playful with a scientific term, and I love that!

Now normally in these Sciency Words posts, I’d tell you the definition and etymology of the term we’re talking about.  I don’t think that’s necessary in this case.  It’s pretty obvious what “covidiot” means and where the word came from.  The only thing I want to say about covidiots is this: please don’t be one.

Next time on Planet Pailly, I’ll have a very strange weather forecast for you.

Sciency Words: Pandemic

Hello, friends!  Welcome to this week’s episode of Sciency Words, a special series here on Planet Pailly where we talk about the definitions and etymologies of scientific terms.  Today’s Sciency Word is:


I normally write about space stuff.  Life on Mars, Pluto’s planet status… things like that.  But I thought I’d change things up a bit and talk about a medical science thing.  Why?  Oh, no particular reason.

In 1666, English physician Gideon Harvey wrote a book called Morbus Anglicus.  According to the Oxford English Dictionary, that book includes the earliest known usage of the word pandemic.

Pandemic comes from two Greek words meaning “all” and “people.”  For Gideon Harvey, it seems that pandemic diseases (leprosy, the bubonic plague, and most especially tuberculosis) are diseases that afflict all people, regardless of social status.  At least that’s my inference after reading the first chapter of Morbius Anglicus.

In modern usage, the meaning of the word pandemic has changed.  The World Health Organization (W.H.O.) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (C.D.C.) use several different terms to categorize disease levels.  According to this online textbook from the C.D.C., those terms include:

  • Endemic: a level of disease that is normal for a given population.
  • Outbreak: a sharp increase above the endemic level of a disease within a geographically small area.
  • Epidemic: a sharp increase above the endemic level of a disease within a geographically large area.
  • Pandemic: an epidemic that is no longer geographically contained, i.e.: an epidemic that has crossed national borders or spread from one continent to another.

Those may seem like clear, straightforward definitions on paper, but according to several sources (like this one or this one or this one), that official definition for pandemic may be inadequate.  Lots of diseases cross national borders.  Lots of diseases hop from continent to continent.  The W.H.O. and the C.D.C. don’t issue pandemic alerts every time this happens.

The problem apparently came to a head in 2009 with the H1N1 swine flu.  Yes, swine flu was crossing borders, but public health officials started quibbling over whether swine flu was new enough or infectious enough or deadly enough to qualify for pandemic status.  Those qualifiers aren’t included in the official definition, but for a lot of people, it feels like they should be.  Otherwise, the seasonal flu would be a pandemic.

Now I’m not particularly well versed in medical science, so allow me to end this post by talking about a space thing.  In the early 2000’s, astronomers started arguing about whether Pluto was truly a planet.  This led to the International Astronomy Union issuing a new, more detailed definition of the word planet (and nobody had an argument about Pluto ever again).

Based on everything I read while researching this post, I feel like a similar story is unfolding over the word pandemic.  Perhaps, as scientists learn more about the spread of infectious diseases in our modern, globalized society, a new, more detailed definition for pandemic will emerge (and I’m sure it will be as universally accepted as the I.A.U.’s planet definition was).

Next time on Planet Pailly, it’s time to reveal my theme for this year’s A to Z Challenge.

Giving the Gift of Coronavirus

Hello, friends!

I have recently returned from my trip to visit family.  My grandmother just turned 100 years old.  Happy birthday to Grandma Pailly!

But today’s post isn’t about that.  Nope.  For today’s post, I have some new artwork to share, artwork that was inspired by that one guy—you know the guy I mean.  I’m talking about that guy in the public restroom who never washes his hands.

Of course I didn’t say anything to that guy.  Instead, I did the most passive aggressive thing I could think of: I made art about the incident and posted it on the Internet.

But I mean, come on!  It’s always gross when people don’t wash their hands after using the restroom.  But seriously, at a time like this?  Seriously?!?