The coronavirus tragedy has brought into common usage many words that many have only occasionally heard in the past. Your familiarity with some of these words will, without a doubt, depend on your age. Let’s look at some of those words.
Influenza (or flu) literally means influence in Italian. At one time astrologers believed that this disease was caused by influence of the stars and planets.
Demos is a Greek word that means people. It appears in many words in the English language. Here are some of the words that are derived from demos:
Democracy is rule by the people (either directly or indirectly).
An epidemic is the spread of something through a community of people.
A pandemic is the spread of something through all of the people, not just those in a small community.
Endemic refers to something that is constantly present in a particular locality or group of people.
Novel Coronavirus means a new addition to the family of viruses known as coronaviruses.
A drug that is used to fight malaria has been mentioned as a possible tool in fighting the coronavirus. Malaria got its name from the wrongful belief that it was caused by bad (mal) night air (aria). In fact, it’s caused by a single-cell parasite that is carried by some types of mosquitoes that feed at night. (Malaria, also known as Roman Fever, is a central element in Henry James’ 1879 novella Daisy Miller. Let me suggest it as a good read while you’re sitting at home.)
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What is happening now is somewhat similar to what happened during the 1918 influenza pandemic. The Great Courses has made available (via YouTube) three lectures about the 1918 Pandemic taught by Dr. Bruce E. Fleury of Tulane University in New Orleans. You can see the first of the three lectures here. The other two lectures should immediately follow the first.
All three lectures are from a 24-part course entitled Mysteries of the Microscopic World. I highly recommend it though it doesn’t contain anything about the coronavirus – since the course is a few years old. If you get it (or borrow it from your library) be sure to obtain the video version since Dr. Fleury uses numerous visuals to illuminate what he’s saying.
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When I was a kid the big threat was polio. It appeared mysteriously often striking only one person in a family or other group and sparing the others. That was scary. It could kill, but often left its victim alive, but partially or totally incapacitated. Some, like a former coworker of mine, were left paraplegics. Their legs were useless, but their arms were unaffected. Others had such severe muscle damage that they could not breathe without a so-called iron lung. Those unfortunate people lived with all but their heads in an iron cylinder which mechanically caused their lungs to inflate and deflate. They spent the remainder of their lives in that device.
Polio, short for poliomyelitis, is a viral infection that occurred often, but not always, in children. Because it was so often associated with children, it was also referred to as infantile paralysis. In the deep south where I was brought up, many parents feared that their children would become overheated on hot summer days and contract polio (it is, in fact, most prevalent during the summer and fall). Some, including one of my best friends, were forced to stay indoors and take naps during the hottest part of the day. Was there any link between being overheated and catching polio? I doubt it, but everyone knew of someone who had polio, and parents were understandably fearful that their children would become victims of this dreaded disease. Their fear was not so different from our fear today that our loved ones will fall victims of the coronavirus which, we suspect, is lurking everywhere.
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Some months ago Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House, gave a press conference. As she turned to leave, a reporter asked her if she hates President Trump. She responded forcefully that she doesn’t hate anyone. She then returned to the microphone and explained that, in her Catholic theology, it is wrong to hate. She and I are about the same age and were brought up as Catholics, so I fully understood what she meant. When we were young, Catholics were taught that it was a grievous (serious) sin to hate anyone.
I was also taught that it is a grievous sin to adore anyone other than God. So I can love my grandchildren, but I can’t adore them. Even though we didn’t use the word adore in a theological sense when talking about someone we loved, using that word was to be avoided lest we misuse it and condemn ourselves to an eternity in hell.
I was also taught that it was wrong to attend a non-Catholic Sunday service, a non-Catholic church wedding or even a non-Catholic funeral. In fact, I was taught that it was wrong to be a member of the YMCA. What could possibly be wrong with the YMCA? Well, YMCA stands for Young Men’s Christian Association, and it was originally formed, in part, for the “sharing of the good news of Jesus Christ.” Since it wasn’t a Catholic organization like the CYO (Catholic Youth Organization), we were forbidden to join it or take part in its activities.
While we’re on the subject of religion, let me tell you what I was taught about mortal sins and venial sins:
A mortal sin is a grievous sin that causes spiritual death.
A venial sin is a slight sin that does not cause spiritual death.
If you die with one unforgiven mortal sin on your soul, you’re lost. But an infinite number of venial sins never equal one mortal sin, so if you only have venial sins on your soul, you can still go to heaven.
The above expresses what I was taught in my youth at a Catholic school. Your experiences may have been different plus some of the teachings of the Catholic Church have been modified since then.