The Language of Infection

This blog is about the microbes that cause disease, the diseases they cause and the causal relationship that links them.
  • As the language we use to describe new discoveries in biomedical science becomes increasingly complex, fragmented and esoteric, communication between those at the scientific frontier and ordinary victims of infection becomes more difficult.
  • The language of infection already has a number of mutually incompatible dialects. This page sets out to enable a bit of crosstalk; while avoiding cross talk.
  • These articles follow a grammar theme, named after the main parts of speech

Articles [full length version]:

  1. Greetings (Introduction)
  2. Nouns (main groups of medically important microbes)
  3. Verbs (microbes in action)
  4. Adjectives & adverbs (added attitude)
  5. Prepositions (proximity & purpose)
  6. Number

Verbs; the doing words (verbos)  [for longer excerpt, click here]

The commonest forms of greeting are short questions; opening gambits like ‘How are you?’ These are often followed by equally short questions, one of the commonest of which is ‘and what do you do?’  Our contemporary culture defines us according to what we do. Our identity and for some, their meaning in life, is based on occupation: doctor, pathologist, teacher, researcher. And what do you do?

Adjectives & adverbs [for longer excerpt, click title]

A good place to start is with the adjectives that are used to describe specific infections. These often end in ‘–al’ and show that the infection is associated with that particular microbe. For example, the type of pneumonia caused by a bacterium called Streptococcus pneumoniae is known as “pneumococcal pneumonia”.  If you remember how the proper names of bacteria come in two parts, you can see that the species component (the second word, representing a personal name) is actually an adjective.

Number [click title for longer version]

Numeracy is a basic life skill so fundamental that we get our first introduction to numbers before going to primary school. Yet, as the saying goes, biologists don’t do math. At least in this respect, clinical microbiologists and infectious disease physicians seem to fit the mould, their preoccupation being with qualitative aspects of infection: the names of the disease causing agents (

nouns) and their consequences (verbs



  1. I love the grammar theme! It’s a very creative way to teach micro/infectious disease…I’m going to remember this, and your blog is going on my ID blogroll. Thanks for writing.

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