Sunday, February 19, 2006

Sick of English

Varecilla-Zoster. Have you ever heard of it?

Well in plain English it’s called Chickenpox, and my son Tom’s got it. He looks like a bottle of tomato ketchup has just exploded all over him and his little sister keeps running after him with a pen trying to join up all the dots.

While reading up on this virus I discovered the following bit of cheerful news on netdoctoruk – “if exposed to an infected family member, about 80% to 90% of those in a household who haven't had chickenpox will get it”.

Therefore the odds my daughter Elli will avoid catching this highly contagious form of the herpes virus are about as slim as the Algerian downhill skier Christelle Laura Douibi’s chances of a podium finish at this year’s Winter Olympics.

Incidently, have you ever wondered why Chickenpox got its name? Thankfully it has nothing to do with the H5N1 bird flu virus, but it also has nothing to do with chickens either. It is believed the name derived from the rather odd observation that the red spots look like chickpeas on the skin.

This is not something that immediately springs to my mind when I look at my son.

In fact they look far more like small water-filled boils. Which is why the Swedish term for Chicken Pox – Vattkoppor (watery boils) - is considerably more descriptively accurate.

Indeed Swedes don’t muck about when it comes to describing medical conditions. They tell it like it is, rather than us English, who prefer to give things rather more complicated and convoluted titles.

Take urinvägsinfektion (urinal ‘way’ infection) for example. We call that Cystitus, which is more reminiscent of a Roman Emperor than an excruciatingly painful bladder complaint.

What about the remarkably straight forward Swedish lunginflammation (lung inflammation), known in English as the impossible-to-spell pneumonia.

Can anyone guess what hjärnblödning (brain bleeding) describes? Why yes, it’s a stroke – an English word that makes this sometimes fatal medical condition sound almost rather pleasant.

It all goes to prove you feel much better if you’re sick in Swedish. At least you know what’s wrong with you.


At 7:13 pm, Anonymous mark said...

Sorry to hear about your son Darren, I hope he gets better soon! I mysteriously caught the virus when I was 15 - no one else at school etc had it. It's not nice to know that the virus is lying dormant in my body and may emerge from its slumber at any time and give me shingles, which is aptly called "bältros" in Swedish.

Some other self-descriptive medical terms in Swedish:

sockersjuka = diabetes
hjärnskakning = concussion
blödarsjuka = haemophilia
blodfattig = anaemic

At 8:14 am, Blogger Darren said...

Thanks for a great comment Mark.

To make matters worse our daughter has just gone down with kräksjuka (chundering sickness), and passed it on to me for good measure.

Oh happy days....

At 8:39 am, Anonymous Big Fat T. said...

Tetanus is another good one in Swedish:
Stelkramp = Stiff cramp.
At my age the odd stiff cramp is quite welcome actually.

At 4:21 pm, Anonymous Just a girl from Switzerland said...

I guess the English terms are more in lign with the latin terms and the Swedish words are just descriptive... German is very similar to Swedish and is using the same way to explain medical terms,which I never liked as I prefer to know the proper medical term.


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