Wordnerdery Sue Horner’s monthly tips on words and ways to reach readers – September 2021

Issue 103 – September 2021

‘Spaghetti on a plate’ + more pandemic analogies

“Non-woven materials [like those recommended for face masks] have a random arrangement of fibres, like spaghetti on a plate.” – McMaster University researchers

Don’t you appreciate when people use creative ways to help you understand something complicated? This is especially welcome as we continue grappling with COVID-19.

These days, scientists are explaining how vaccines or preventive measures work, the perfect situation where analogies give a shortcut to understanding. Other writers are having fun with what to call someone who is double-vaxxed (like “max-vax”) or making a comment about anti-vaxxers. I’ve never seen so many XXs in use.

Here’s some of the expressive writing about the pandemic that has crossed my desk:

“Traditional materials for clothing and furniture have a woven or knitted structure. Non-woven materials, by contrast, have a random arrangement of fibres, like spaghetti on a plate. This randomness enables high particle filtration while remaining highly breathable." – McMaster University researchers, on the use of non-woven spunbond polypropylene as a layer in homemade masks

“mRNA vaccines don't change your DNA or stay in your body. They give your immune system instructions for how to fend off Covid, then disappear like a Snapchat message.” - Dr. Tom Frieden on Twitter

“[Moderna] is an mRNA vaccine that sends the body’s cells instructions for making a spike protein that will train the immune system to recognize it. The immune system will then attack the spike protein the next time it sees one (attached to the actual SARS CoV-2 virus). “ – Yale Medicine

“[The phrase] ’fully vaccinated person’ needs a haircut, if only to hasten the dialogue…By the time we give air to eight syllables, or even commit those 21 letters to paper, a certain virus can sneak a suburb. Hop a train. Gatecrash a school. Prune the name and you spare vital seconds.” – David Astle in The Age

"Some of these [anti-vax] movements are like a bug light for more radical groups." – Amarnath Amarasingam, an assistant professor at Queen’s University, quoted by Bruce Arthur on Toronto hospital protests

"I don't know why they categorize this as flu-Iike symptoms. These are not flu-like symptoms. These are like alien-type symptoms like something has crawled inside of you and is trying to take over." – Beaumont Hospital patient Kevin Miller, quoted in Detroit Free Press

"Earlier in the summer, I think people were declaring victory over COVID. But to me, it seems like we're declaring victory at halftime, and you know, there's still a lot of work to be done and potentially a lot of changes ahead of us.” – Dr. Jonathan Kaper

“I beg of you, watch that wave and don’t ignore it…I certainly don’t want to see a mass of my friends grieving — or dead — because I didn’t yell loud enough to get you and your families off that beach. ...You don’t want any part of this thing without vaccine on board.” – Iowa scientist Dr. J. Stacey Klutts

Have you seen any memorable analogies explaining some aspect of the fight against COVID-19? Please share!

Feedback on the August issue (and a tip):

Janet Falk: “Great tips and excellent examples [for using lists]. A graphic designer told me to keep lists to five items. More than five makes it less likely the list will be read in total.”

Related reading:

Roy Peter Clark examines how a doctor makes hard facts persuasive reading

Tips for explaining complex terms and more in this Guide to Science Writing

Recently in the Red Jacket Diaries:

No joke: COVID-19 vaccines have fancy new names

Words, writing and more: Links to more great content you might have missed

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