1) I’ve run out of things to say about editing.
2) I’m pregnant, and it’s hard to come up with new things to say about editing when you spend all of your free time sleeping or trying to keep from throwing up.
What, Pray Tell, Is a New Novel Flu Case?
One of my readers, Dawn, wrote me last week to complain about swine flu’s new name — and I’m not talking about “H1N1.” She writes:
I happen to work at [a] state health department . . . and was puzzled when I received a press release sent to my work email with the title ‘New Novel H1N1 Flu Cases Confirmed.’ I’m sure you can see the source of my puzzlement – “new novel” – wtf?
As I told Dawn, “new novel” is definitely “wtf”-worthy. It’s like saying, “I found an old, ancient turnip in the back of my fridge.” I mean, why?
Frankly, I was annoyed enough when the CDC tried to change swine flu to H1N1, because at that point, all anyone had been hearing about was swine flu, swine flu, SWINE FLU for days on end, so it seemed a little late for rebranding. (Plus, swine flu is eight thousand times more memorable than H1N1, which has always sounded like a Star Wars character to me.) I didn’t realize people were saying “novel H1N1 flu,” though, much less “new novel H1N1 flu.”
Dawn goes on to say:
Having been on something of the front lines of this over-hyped event, I know that it didn’t take long before the “swine” in swine flu became a detriment to the pork industry. After that, our esteemed government officials began changing the name – Influenza A (oops, already have one of those), North American flu (too wordy), Mexican flu (bad for foreign relations), Spanish flu (already used in 1918) – clearly this is one aspect of the next pandemic for which there was no plan.
So, now they call it the “novel” flu virus. But, seeing as the word “novel” actually means “new,” would you agree with me that then announcing to the world “new novel flu cases confirmed” sounds more like an actual new virus? I’m really just curious to get your take on this.
So, the problem may go deeper than (a) redundancy and (b) closing-the-barn-door-after-the-horse-ran-out branding. What we may have on our hands in an ambiguous phrase. “New novel flu cases confirmed” (or “new novel H1N1 flu cases confirmed”) could be taken to mean that more people have come down with swine flu, but it could also mean that a new mutation of the swine-flu virus has been discovered.
No matter how you look at it, “new novel flu cases” is sickening.
P.S.: It occurs to me only now that the key may lie in the absence of a comma between “new” and “novel,” which indicates that the two words could not have and put between them, and that the word novel is too closely tied to flu to ever be separated. Still, “new novel flu”? That can’t be right.