A WORD IN THE HAND: CURE
Even rump sellers contract the poisonous fever of fancy managers
A column to satisfy your inner grammar nerd
An amusing typo appeared in a recent online article (not on this site, happily). At least I think it was a typo. The sentence read: “If he stays in jail he might contact a disease.”
Most would assume there was simply an “r” missing from what should have been “contract”, but perhaps this was not just a case of rapid typing. Perhaps prison authorities were genuinely concerned that the inmate in question was planning to place a collect call on a secretly stashed cellphone to Mrs Rona or Mr Rubella, or surreptitiously pass a sick note to Miss Scarlet Fever, asking for help in a breakout.
Was it some change in the infection of the prisoner’s voice that made the guards suspicious enough to search his bedding?
As with infection and inflection, contact and contract are a bit like Vladimir Putin and Macaulay Culkin – they look eerily alike but come from different parents.
“Contract” is from the Latin contrahere – to draw together in agreement. “Contact” is from contingere – to touch or seize.
It gets confusing, as language is wont to do. “Contagious” comes from the same root as contact. Having contact with an infected person can cause one to contract a contagious disease.
Contagion requires one body to physically touch another, which is what separates the contagious from the infectious.
“Infectious” – from the Latin inficere (to spoil or stain) – refers to the communication of a disease via air or fluid. This is what happens when you go out for an innocent walk between 6am and 9am and a horrible mouth-breathing jogger not wearing a mask coughs sputum all over you.
You might not be infected, which means you won’t be infectious, but you could still be contagious, meaning that if someone touches your infected-spit-covered arm and then rubs their eyes, they might contract the disease and become infected.
Influenza, generally abbreviated to flu, is an interesting disease that, as pointed out by many anti-lockdowners, so far has killed a lot more people than Covid-19.
It is encouraging to know that so many suppliers of miscellaneous goods are feeling content about their jobs.
Pedantically speaking, influenza refers to only two particularly evil strains of the flu virus and not every common cold (which is why people get unreasonably upset when they contract the sniffles after having a flu vaccine). It is both infectious and contagious.
Like Covid-19 and unlike many other afflictions – rubella, measles, scarlet fever and chicken pox, to name a few – influenza does not take its name from its symptoms, even though the word sounds like a sneeze.
The Italians, during a mysterious outbreak of illness in 1743, decided to call the new epidemic influenza, meaning the influence of the stars on earthly matters, because they had no idea where it came from, and no cure for it.
“Cure” is from the Latin curare (which, to complicate matters, is also the name of a poison). The Online Etymology Dictionary says that “most words for cure in European languages originally applied to the person being treated but now can be used with reference to the disease too”.
This might be accepted practice but if you ask me it still sounds odd when someone says, “the doctor cured my chicken pox”. Is the chicken pox feeling better now?
That reminds me of a man I met recently, who told me he was a “cured meat supplier”. I told him I was glad he had recovered from his compulsion to hand out rump steaks wherever he went. He looked at me strangely.
Suppliers of cured meat have been around since man discovered the magic of drying, salting and brining. Curators are more recent. “Curate” comes from the same poisonous etymological family as “cure”. It originally meant “to take care of” but is now just a fancy way of saying “manage” or “organise”.
Everyone’s a curator these days. A recent ad for kitchen appliances promised to help “curate your time”. Any day now I expect to see a Pikitup truck with “carefully curated garbage” painted on its side.
Another increasingly popular job description is “content provider”. It is encouraging to know that so many suppliers of miscellaneous goods are feeling content about their jobs. I’d feel more content about mine if our buzzword-laden lingo could be cured of curation.
When it comes to diseases one would prefer not to contact, curate is my worst. Or, as the German cured meat supplier might say, my wurst.