A bird, a monkey and a pig walk into a bar in Hong Kong. Instead of sitting on stools as usual, they pull up chairs at a table and join a woman wearing a white lab coat and an antiviral face mask.
She is Dr. Margaret Sars, chief of the regional office of the UN’s World Health Organization. They order their drinks and when they arrive, toast each other. The monkey, apparently the leader or group spokescreature, opens the conversation with a friendly tone.
He tells Dr. Sars that he and many other monkeys, birds and pigs feel they are wrongly discriminated against by other animals, birds, fish and people because their monophyletic groups are associated with diseases.
“Monkey pox, Swine Flu, Bird Flu and other afflictions named for us are giving us a bad name and we’d like you to do something about that.
“Not every monkey, pig or bird is a carrier. And yet, everyone shuns us,” he said.
Dr. Sars replies “mmm mmm mmm fuffa burble cmtmmm” drawing curious looks. Then she removes her antiviral mask and says “sorry, no one can understand me with that mask on. I hope you guys are disease free.”
She goes on to say that just the other day a delegation from “here in Hong Kong” made the same point about Hong Kong Flu and she got a letter from some people in Riyadh who felt they were being singled out for persecution because of MERS.
“Mmm mmm mmm fuffa burble cmtmmm… Oh. Sorry. The mask slipped down again. So I’ve asked the big wheels in Geneva if they can come up with better names, names that don’t insult birds, monkeys, pigs, or residents of Hong Kong or Saudi Arabia,” she said.
But what to call them? The Nest Flu? The Sty Flu, the Treetop Flu? Sand-Borne Coronavirus?
How about initials? Most of them already mean something else. Or numbers? Flu #234.12?
It’s a quandary. And it’s one not likely to resolve itself anytime soon. In the meantime, the Department of Political Correctness is on the case. Surprising chicken pox, German Measles and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever never came up.
So far, it has considered and rejected Kitten Flu, Puppy Flu, Gingham Flu, Soul Flu, Fiat Flu, Proper Englishman Flu, Dirty Commie Flu, Lady Gaga Flu, Limbaugh Flu, Flue Flu, Bunny Flu, Blue Bunny Flu and WHO Flu.
Next they’ll likely take a page from the weather bureau and use different names each year. Alfred, Beauregard, Cathleen, Doris, Edward, Frank, Greta, Hillary, Isadore, Jacob, Karen, Lindsay, Mark, Ned, Ophelia, Pearl, Quentin, Robert, Sally, Thalia, Uwe, Victor, Wendy, Xandra, Zebediah.
This may give rise to a whole new industry: disease naming agencies and companies. Start with the National Office of Flu Identifiers or NOFI. Then gear up for the Flu Channel, AccuFlu and a host of others.
I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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© WJR 2015