Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Miracle Drug

There's a medecine on the market for rheumatoid arthritis called Humira. According to the leaflet, it is pronounced "hu-mare-ah." How can the letter 'i' make the sound /e/? This stumped me for a while (and it seems I was not the only stumped one). The other day, though, I came up with a possible explanation for this counterintuituve pronunciation, an explanation of which I am fond, though it raises its own problem.

It occurred to me that this is a pun on the word "miracle," which it further occurred to me I pronounce "mare-acle." Finally it occurred to me to wonder why I pronounce this word this way. I'm still wondering, but now I suspect I'm not the only one who does so, despite what my wife says. A bit of online research turned up the following inconclusive maps from Bert Vaux's survey. I'm not even sure if any of the options apply to me; the closest is /ɛ/, but because of tense-lax mergers I can't have that vowel before an /r/.

Thus the wordplay behind the
"hu-mare-ah" is obscured by the limited occurrence of the correspondind pronunciation of 'miracle.' The implication that Humira is a miracle drug may be hyperbolic, but it belongs to a new class of immunological drugs that are revolutionizing the treatment of autoimmune diseases.

Speaking of autoimmune diseases, in an article in last week's New Yorker Ben McGrath described the decrepitude of an elderly mob turncoat thusly:
He suffered his second minor stroke and third detached retina. He also endured high blood pressure, poor hearing, arthritis, prostate cancer, and Raynaud's disease.
In case you are not familiar with this last disease (which is an autoimmune disease), here is how Wikipedia describes it:
  1. When exposed to cold temperatures, the oxygen supply to the fingertips, toes, and earlobes of Raynaud's disease patients are reduced and the skin color turn pale or white (called pallor) and become cold and numb.
  2. When the oxygen supply is depleted, the skin colour turns blue (called cyanosis).
  3. These events are episodic and when the episode subsides, or the area is warmed, blood returns to the area and the skin colour turns red (rubor) and then back to normal, often accompanied by swelling and tingling. These symptoms are thought to be due to reactive hyperemias of the areas deprived of blood flow.

All three colour changes are present in classic Raynaud's disease. However, some patients do not see all of the colour changes in all outbreaks of this condition.

Poor guy -- when it's cold his fingers turn blue.

In the interest of disclosure I must disclose that I have Raynaud's disease, and only hope that some day a treatment may be found, not for my sake, but for my children's, as this is a genetic condition, and both I and my wife suffer from this truly debilitating disease.


Queenie said...

sounds really terrible. i mean, you probably have to wear gloves in the winter... how awful that must be for you.

Ben said...

It is terrible. Plus I have no taste in hats, without which, you know, my ears get cold.