|The Moscow Times » Issue 4142 » The Word`s Worth|
08 May 2009By Michele A. Berdy
There are so many conspiracy theories flying around these days that I've developed one of my own, just so I don't feel left out. Here it is: Something has been put in the world's water supply that annihilates medium- and long-term memory. People can no longer recall what happened last month, let alone two years ago. This means that they can be easily driven to hysteria over the disease of the month. This time it's свиной грипп (swine flu). They don't recall the largely unfounded panic over птичий грипп (avian flu) two years ago; or атипичная пневмония (SARS) a few years before that; or коровье бешенство (mad cow disease) before that; or the U.S. "swine flu debacle of 1976," when one person died of the flu, about $150 million was spent on mass vaccination and dozens died from the shots.
Don't get me wrong: I applaud public health agencies for preparing for the worst. But the headlines both in the Russian and foreign press are so terrifying, it's no wonder little old ladies are putting on rubber gloves to toss out frozen pork chops.
The first problem is the word пандемия (pandemic), which in World Health Organization terminology refers primarily to the geographical reach of an illness. But in laymen's terms, пандемия is an epidemic that sweeps across countries, continents or the world. Pandemic morphs into pandemonium quicker than a virus can mutate. One newspaper asks: Миру грозит эпидемия? (Is the world threatened by an epidemic?) And then it gives the answer: Свиной грипп -- новая чума 21-ого века (Swine flu is the new plague of the 21st century).
Now that the media have your attention, you can't help tracking this flu as it moves remorselessly eastward, headline by grim headline.
Свиной грипп добрался до американских школ (The swine flu has reached American schools). Свиной грипп продолжает шествие по планете (The swine flu continues its march across the planet). Эпидемия свиного гриппа стремительно распространяется (The swine flu epidemic is spreading rapidly).
Первый случай свиного гриппа подтверждён в Европе (The first case of swine flu is confirmed in Europe). Свиной грипп зафиксирован в Португалии (Swine flu is identified in Portugal). Свиной грипп обнаружен в Швейцарии (Swine flu is discovered in Switzerland). Свиной грипп косит европейцев (Swine flu is cutting down Europeans).
Свиной грипп на пути в Россию (Swine flu is on its way to Russia). Свиной грипп придёт в Россию (Swine flu will arrive in Russia). Свиной грипп уже возле границ России (Swine flu is already at Russia's borders). Свиной грипп охватит Россию молниеносно (Swine flu will sweep Russia with lightning speed).
Getting nervous? The Grim Reaper is heading our way, and he ain't smiling.
And then there are the local conspiracy theories. One commentator announced: В Калифорнии находится главный бактериологический центр Америки. [Свиной грипп] -- это боевое бактериологическое оружие, которое испытывают на мексиканском населении. (The bacteriological center of America is in California. Swine flu is a military bacteriological weapon that they are testing on the Mexican population.) Another writes: Это PR-кампания, направленная против Мексики (This is a PR campaign directed against Mexico).
Ерунда (Nonsense). In my opinion, it's a flu with an apt name. It causes mild symptoms in people who catch it and turns everyone else into swinish fools.
Michele A. Berdy is a Moscow-based translator and interpreter.