It’s Thursday, March 12. In today’s newsletter: The insidious language of the “Wuhan virus.” Plus: The staggering heartlessness toward the elderly.
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When it comes to the popular naming of infectious diseases, xenophobia has long played a prominent role. (DUKAI)
President Donald Trump’s Oval Office address may have been intended to console a country that is growing frantic about the coronavirus pandemic, but it at best confused Americans.
Trump made news by announcing a temporary European travel ban (followed by clarifications), but as my colleague David Frum argues, that does little to address the real problems at hand:
More people will get sick because of his presidency than if somebody else were in charge. More people will suffer the financial hardship of sickness because of his presidency than if somebody else were in charge. The medical crisis will arrive faster and last longer than if somebody else were in charge. So, too, the economic crisis. More people will lose their jobs than if somebody else were in charge. More businesses will be pushed into bankruptcy than if somebody else were in charge.
Trump went out of his way to spin the coronavirus as a menace coming from abroad, referring to it as a “foreign virus”—just a few days after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made a point to call it the “Wuhan virus.” It’s part of a long history in which xenophobia warps the naming of infectious diseases—one that stretches as far back as the 15th century. The point seems relatively straightforward, as Ben Zimmer writes: “Foreign = bad.” Read the full piece from our resident linguist here.