Pandemic pandemonium

Answers.com’s top 1-click search term this week is pandemic (if you don’t know what 1-click is, check here; it’s incredibly handy for looking things up without leaving the web page you’re looking at). And no wonder: the WHO set the influenza pandemic alert at 5 out of a possible 6.

Pandemic is from pan, meaning all, and demos, meaning people (both from ancient Greek). So a pandemic is something (well, not just something; it’s a disease) that affects all (well, not all, but lots of) people. It differs from an epidemic (a widespread outbreak of a contagious disease) in that it is, well, more widespread. Demos gives us democracy, government by the people; demographics, characteristics of populations; and demagogue, a leader who appeals to popular prejudice. Pan gives us words like panorama, a view of an entire area, and pantheism, the belief that God is in everything.

So, pandemic is clearly word of the week. The Pandora’s box has been opened and it will take plenty of time and effort till we can declare it closed again. We can’t be Panglossian about this crisis, but on the other hand panic won’t help matters. Let’s just be prepared.

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