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12 Diseases and the Lucky Places They’re Named For

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Map image via Shutterstock

This isn't exactly what tourism bureaus want you to picture when you hear a town or region's name.

1. Guinea Worm

A parasitic nematode several feet long, European explorers named it for the Guinea coast of West Africa in the 17th Century. It's the stuff of nightmares. Eggs in stagnant water are eaten by water fleas, which get swallowed by a human drinking water. They mature in the human's gut, then mate. The female burrows to the lower leg and emerges. The burning sensation drives the victim to put his or her legs in the water. The worm lays her eggs and the cycle is repeated. Fortunately, it's easily prevented with a simple drinking filter, and it's on track to be exterminated within the next decade.

2. West Nile Virus

Another mosquito-borne form of encephalitis, this was discovered in the West Nile District of Uganda in 1937 and has probably been around since antiquity. It created quite a stir in 1999 when it showed up in the Americas. Humans, horses, and birds are all significantly affected by the virus, and it is mostly transmitted by Culex pipiens mosquitos. A vaccine exists for horses, but not yet for humans.

3. German Measles

Also called Rubella, this gets its popular name because it was German physicians who first described it in the 1700s. It is seldom lethal but was a major cause of miscarriage and birth defects such as blindness prior to widespread vaccination; during the rubella pandemic of the 1960s, there were about 11,000 miscarriages and 20,000 cases of congenital rubella syndrome in newborns; New York state alone saw CRS in 1% of live births. A vaccine was introduced in 1969.

During World War I, some in the United States tried to combat the Germans by renaming German measles "liberty measles."

4. Ross River Fever

This flu-like disease first caused an outbreak in New South Wales, Australia, in 1928; the culprit was identified in 1959 in a mosquito collected on the Ross River. It is spread by several species of mosquito, and also affects animals such as kangaroos. It's rarely fatal, but there is some evidence it may cause meningitis occasionally.

5. Omsk Hemorrhagic Fever

This severe tick-borne disease was first found in the 1940s in Omsk, Russia. Its primary hosts are the water vole and the muskrat, but ticks can transmit it to humans and other mammals. It can also be transmitted through milk and through contaminated water. Symptoms include fever, headache, muscle pain, low blood pressure, anemia, low platelet counts, severe bleeding, and encephalitis.

6. Ebola Hemorrhagic Fever

Named for the Ebola River in Zaire in 1976, this family of hemorrhagic viruses are often shockingly lethal; some outbreaks have had over 90% fatality rates. Incubation lasts from under two weeks to nearly a month, after which flu-like symptoms develop and gradually worsen. Death is usually due to multiple organ failure due to low blood pressure, tissue necroses, and a very frightening condition called disseminated intravascular coagulation in which the blood's clotting mechanisms completely break down.

7. Marburg Virus Disease

A viral hemorrhagic fever very similar to Ebola, this was named for Marburg, Germany, in 1967. It has likely been in Africa for a long time, but 1967 is when workers in a vaccine manufacturing lab were preparing specimens of monkey tissues and were unwittingly exposed. Seven people died out of 31 infected in that outbreak alone.

8. Lassa Fever

Another hemorrhagic fever, first identified in Lassa, Nigeria, in 1969, this mostly hangs out in mice and is transmitted in their droppings. It will, however, infect any human tissue it encounters. 80% of cases are asymptomatic, but 20% are severe, and it kills about 5,000 people in Africa every year.

9. La Crosse Encephalitis

Discovered in La Crosse, Wisconsin, in 1963, this disease is transmitted by the "treebole mosquito," which lays its eggs in stagnant water. It can survive a cold winter by transmitting from the female mosquito into her eggs, which lie dormant until the spring thaw. It's not usually fatal, but can cause severe brain damage.

10. St. Louis Encephalitis

In 1933 in St. Louis, Missouri, an encephalitis epidemic exploded, with over a thousand cases reported. The virus causing it turned out to live naturally in migratory birds without sickening them. It can be transmitted to humans by Culex mosquitos, causing encephalitis that ranges from mild to life-threatening.

11. Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever

Named for the Rocky Mountains but widespread in North America, this tick-borne bacterial infection is very dangerous, killing up to 5% of infected patients even with advanced treatment. It's transmitted by the dog tick and the wood tick. Symptoms include sudden fever, headache, muscle pain, and rash.

12. Lyme Disease

And as Kathy discussed last week, the name "Lyme disease" has Connecticut roots. While this disease has been present for thousands of years, it wasn’t until a large outbreak of cases in the Connecticut towns of Lyme and Old Lyme during the 1970s that the full syndrome was recognized.

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15 Ways to Avoid Saying 'Death'
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People make up ridiculous, circuitous, preposterous terms when they’re afraid to discuss something—and death is near the top of anyone’s list of fears. Henry Beard and Christopher Cerf’s Spinglish: The Definitive Dictionary of Deliberately Deceitful Language is a terrific new dictionary of verbal evasions covering many subjects, including dozens of ways to avoid saying reaper-related words. As Beard and Cerf show, sometimes we’ll say anything to avoid the d-word.

1. arbitrary deprivation of life

This whopper comes from the State Department in 1984. It buries assassination—specifically assassination by so-called friendly governments—in jargon. The lifelessness of the phrasing is unintentionally appropriate.

2. terminal episode

This one is kinda sorta honest: the word terminal is at least in the ballpark of death. But there’s still something antiseptic about terminal episode, a term for death, especially one in a hospital. I’m reminded of another great death-related idiom that’s half-euphemistic: terminate with extreme prejudice. That’s a strongly worded assassination order that you might remember from Apocalypse Now.

3. attrit

To attrit is to kill. The Oxford English Dictionary traces this back to 1915 and a Daily Mail use: “Our Ministers talk of ending this war by ‘attrition.’ Who is being ‘attrited’ by these slovenly methods?” On the other hand, if you’ve been attritioned, you’re a bit better off: you’ve only been fired, a topic that is another lightning rod for euphemisms.

4. dynamically address

This term comes from the U.S. Army’s Task Force ODIN, who struggled with insurgents for control of Iraq’s roads. Needless to say, when ODIN dynamically addressed a situation, it resulted in casualties on the other side.

5. expectant

An earlier U.S. war gave us this term: in the Vietnam era, expectants were civilians expected to die.

6. sent on a trip to Belize

On a much lighter note, this term was used on Breaking Bad by the character Saul Goodman, who was trying to find a polite way to ask meth cooker Walter White if Walt’s brother-in-law Hank needed to be whacked. (Ah, whacked. Of course that’s also a euphemism for killing—one popularized by mob movies and The Sopranos.)

7. immediate permanent incapacitation

This term for death has a rather specific use: it appeared in a U.S. Army document about the impact and use of nuclear weapons. Whatever the cause, immediate permanent incapacitation is not recommended by doctors, with the exception of Dr. Doom.

8. game management

This sounds like the kind of careful supervision any game, contest, or sport requires. Nope. It’s a term for the mass killing of animals, either through hunting (itself a euphemism) or other slaughter.

9. go to Switzerland

There are plenty of reasons to literally go to Switzerland—but this sense is more metaphorical, as it involves seeking assisted suicide. The term is derived from the fact that it’s easier to get such end-of-life help in Switzerland.

10. self-injurious behavior incident

The Jargon Gods smiled and perhaps shuddered when the U.S Department of Defense came up with this term for suicide attempts at Guantanamo.

11. depopulation

When seven million chickens were euthanized in 1983 to prevent the spread of disease, the U.S. government needed a word to make this chicken-pocalypse sound less awful. So they settled on depopulation, a sterile term with a long history. Depopulation has referred to, as the OED puts it, “laying waste, devastation, ravaging, pillaging” since the 1400s.

12. diagnostic misadventure of high magnitude

Here’s another one from the medical world. While this sounds a little like hype for the latest summer movie—Diagnostic Misadventure of High Magnitude! Starring The Rock!—it actually applies to a specific sort of demise: when a patient dies during an exam due to malpractice. If the death occurred during treatment, it would be a therapeutic misadventure.

13. neutralize

This OED shows this term going back to at least 1937, in a (London) Times article: “A mechanized advance-guard battery was shown going into action in support of attacking infantry and attempting to neutralize an area.” If the meaning isn’t exactly clear, a 1970 report about Vietnam is more explicit: “The Phoenix program had resulted in some 15,000 VCI, meaning Vietcong infrastructure, or cadre, being ‘neutralized’ in 1968.” Neutralized = killed.

14. sacrificed

Lab rats—and lab monkeys, lab cats, and other lab critters—who die while being experimented on are said to be sacrificed. I guess this one isn’t totally deceitful. A scientist sacrificing a macaque for knowledge and a Satanist sacrificing a goat for the lord of the underworld are, in a way, doing the same thing.

15. health alteration

Here’s a euphemistic wonder. Technically, a health alternation could be almost anything, from catching a cold to dropping a few pounds. Alas, this is actually another term for assassination coined in the 1960s by the CIA. Let’s just say you wanted to stay off the radar of the health alteration committee.

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27 Cowboy Slang Terms for Things You Eat and Drink
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If your bread wallet is empty and you need to line the flue, knight the ribbons and mosey to a beanery. Your cookie-pusher will know what you mean when you order any of these 27 cowboy food and drink items.

1. Bear Sign: Doughnuts
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2. Overland trout: Bacon
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3. Blue John: Skimmed milk
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4. Boggy-top: A pie with no top crust
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5. Cackleberries: Eggs
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6. Charlie Taylor: A butter substitute made of sorghum or syrup mixed with fat. It wasn't good, and apparently neither was Charlie Taylor, who was terrible enough to lend his name to the unpopular trail staple.

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7. Hen-fruit Stir and Long Sweetenin': Pancakes and molasses
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8. Horse Thief Special / Spotted Pup: Rice or tapioca pudding with raisins
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9. Hot Rock / Sinker / Doughgods: Biscuits
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10. Huckdummy: Biscuits with raisins
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11. Love Apples: Canned tomatoes
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12. Music Roots: Sweet potatoes
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13. Mysteries: Sausage of any variety, so-called because that's what they're made of
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14. Bee-sweetenin’: Honey
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15. Pecos Strawberries / Mexican Strawberries / Whistle Berries: Beans
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16. Roastineer: To "roast an ear" of corn over the fire while still in its husk
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17. Salt Horse: Corned beef
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18. Saltwater Vegetables: Oysters or clams
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19. Sipper / Texas Butter: Gravy
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20. Skunk eggs: Onion
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21. Son-of-a-gun Stew (or if there are no womenfolk present, Son-of-a-bitch Stew): Stew made of whatever is available and the organs of a recently-slaughtered calf. So-called because the son-of-a-gun young cattle can't keep up on the trail.
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22. Wasp Nest: Bread

And don’t forget to order a drink!

23. Six-shooter Skink / Float a Horseshoe / Arbuckle's / Brown Gargle / Jamoka: Coffee
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24. Belly Wash / Soda Pop / Black Water: Really weak coffee
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25. John Barleycorn / Purge / Hop Juice: Beer
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26. Nose Paint / Pop Skull / Prairie Dew / Rebel Soldier / Red Eye / Snake Pizen / Tarantula Juice / Tongue Oil / Tonsil Paint / Tornado Juice / Busthead / Bottled Courage / Family Disturbance / Gut Warmer / Kansas Sheep Dip: Whiskey
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27. And a shot of whiskey with a beer chaser is a boilermaker and his helper.

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We'd need a book to list them all -- what's your favorite cowboy food slang?

Collected from Legends of America's Old West Slang Dictionary and Westopedia: The Language and Lore of Real America by Win Blevins

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