22 April 2017
A few months ago, an irritation on my ear seemed to have taken up a happy residence without an indication of when it would say its farewells and disappear. So, more than aware of its barnacle aspirations, I took myself to a dermatologist to have the condition explained. Or, as they say in medicaleze, diagnosed, which carries with it more ominous possibilities. Well, she said, it doesn’t look like anything dangerous, but I’ll have it biopsied. So she numbed the ear, scraped the evidence and sent it off. Two days later, I got a call that everything was fine…it was pre-cancerous.
Well, to me, fine and pre-cancerous don’t go together. Ed McMahon, Johnny Carson’s sidekick, said, after an operation, that the greatest word in the English language was ‘benign’. Benign without doubt is better than being told that the expunged tumor from his anatomy was, thank the lord, pre-cancerous. Why bring up the ‘c’ word, if it doesn’t apply? As it turned out, the dermatologist scraped off all the offending material for the biopsy on my ear, so that I was left with an ear cleared of irritation.
So I started thinking about other conditions that could be caught up in pessimist-speak. Your car could have a condition known as pre-rust…it’s not rusted yet, but it might be. (Oddly, rust in a car was called ‘cancer’, at least in the old days, when cars were actually made of metal.) Now most rust in a car seems to be taken care of prophylactically by making as much as possible out of plastic. Or milk…it could be called, legitimately, ‘pre-sour’…wait long enough and it will turn, but won’t, if it is used up in time. Instead of ‘pre-sour’, it could be called ‘still nasally pleasant’.
Or your house paint, it could, when new, be called ‘pre-pealing’ because eventually wind, rain, cold and ice will cause it to require attention. Why not call pealing paint ‘post-attractive’, not the best condition, but not sinister either.
Not to belabor the point, but, if the males on your mother’s side of the family are bald, do we tell a boy in the genetic line that he is ‘pre-bald’? I’m sure we can let the lad enjoy his hair, while he can. We don’t have to make it sound like his hair is living on borrowed time. It doesn’t mean that every condition we are ‘pre’ of shouldn’t be concerning. It just means we might tread a bit lighter on the rhetoric of disaster.