Thursday, April 24, 2014


Ignorant Medics
Did They Forget the Double Privative Prefix?

Aging, one (that’s me) pays more attention to these things, doesn’t one. Cognitive impairment, for example, which is in the news this morning. MCI, the “m” is for mild, which is the early stage that starts the downhill slide into mental oblivion: men are 1.6 times more likely to have it than women. No fair, we are supposed to be equal. 

It worsens. There are two kinds of MCI, amnestic MCI and non-amnestic MCI. But to digress, my slight knowledge and remembrance of Greek is starting to annoy. What comes to mind is a feature of our Eucharistic prayer, the anamnesis, which means “not forgetting” or literally, “not having amnesis” or more literally, “not not remembering.” In Prayer B we say “We remember his death, We proclaim his resurrection, We await his coming in glory,” where the “We remember his death” is the anamesis, our proclamation that we don’t forget what happened on Good Friday, his sacrifice for us.

Etymologically, the medical term “amnestic” is obviously from two Greek meanings, the “a” means “not” and the “mneme” means “memory,” the verb form means “to remember.” If one is amnestic, one does not remember, one forgets. If one is non-amnestic, one does not not remember, one does not forget. Where does this digression go? The digression goes to the obvious: whoever coined the medical term “non-amnestic” was stupid. Properly, the word is “anamnestic.” What a schlemiel.

But before digressing, I said, “it worsens.” What worsens is the statistic, the finding that those of us who are amnestic have a much higher early death rate than those of us who are anamnestic. Which am I? I’m not going to join the schlemiel who coined “non-amnestic” by quipping something about what I can’t remember; I’m just going to say that at my age there are no early deaths, it’s just that Harry Golden’s Evil Eye finally notices us. You can only ward off the Evil Eye by having someone say to you "may you live to a hundred and ten" or “wishing you long years.” And that only for so long.

Non-amnestic? Jeez.


From the Online Etymology Dictionary, amnesia (n.) "loss of memory," 1786 (as a Greek word in English from 1670s), Modern Latin, coined from Greek amnesia "forgetfulness," from a-, privative prefix, "not" (see a- (3)) + mimneskesthai "to recall, cause to remember," a reduplicated form related to Greek mnemnon "mindful," mneme "memory," mnasthai "to remember;" from PIE root *men- "to think, remember" (see mind (n.)).

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