Query: the solution to the problem will recreate the problem

Mike Salovesh t20mxs1 at CORN.CSO.NIU.EDU
Thu Jan 25 08:11:17 UTC 2001

Grant Barrett passed on this query from the ADS web site:

> I'm lookin for the word(s) that mean (something like) the solution to the
> problem will recreate the problem. I believe the ending of the movie the French
> Connection was an indication of the situation???
> Marie
> MReier at dsc.smcs.noacsc.org

In medical circles, the word "iatrogenic" comes close.  OED defines it
as "Induced unintentionally by a physician through his diagnosis,
manner, or treatment; of or pertaining to the induction of (mental or
bodily) disorders, symptoms, etc., in this way."  The etymology goes
back to two elements meaning "physician-caused".

Med-school lore sometimes "explains" the word by saying that "iatrogenic
disease is caused by its own diagnosis."  (Now I'm stuck for a word:
that sentence is not what I would call an oxymoron, but I can't recall a
more appropriate label for this kind of statement of impossible circular
causality. Help, anyone?)

Illustration: It is sometimes argued that stuttering is iatrogenic.
Those who believe that conclusion point out that normal speech usually
includes many instances in which a speaker involuntarily fixes on
repeating an utterance-initial phoneme, syllable, or word.  That
particular pattern fits very well with common stereotypes about the
nature of stuttering, but in fact that's not the only way stuttering may
manifest itself. Not only that: some confirmed stutterers never exhibit
that particular behavioral pattern.  In any event, it's pretty easy to
demonstrate that virtually all normal speakers put utterances together
that sound just like stuttering in one way or another.  Normally, that
behavior is ignored.

>From time to time, however, people who hear a speaker make sounds that
are normal speech events perceive that the speaker has a problem.  Close
attention to what any normal speaker actually does as part of talking
will turn up many more instances of stuttering than are casually
apparent, thus seeming to confirm the presence of a problem.  When the
speaker is a child and the observer is a parent or a teacher, the
observer might go beyond being conscious of patterns that usually are
ignored and put them together as evidence that the child "is a
stutterer".  Often, this conclusion hardens into a diagnosis that
demands that something be done to "cure" the alleged difficulty.  At
this point, so the argument goes, the speaker is made more and more
aware that some normal vocal patterns are, in fact, dangerous recidivism
into habits that must be changed.  The tensions actually lead to
intensification of the undesired behavior. In the end, the occasional
lapses of normal speech take over as insurmountable patterns of
interference with normal communication. The diagnosis has produced the
disease -- at least in the eyes of those who believe in the argument
I've just presented.

It took me a long time to fix the word "iatrogenic" in my working
vocabulary. Iatrogenic didn't become an ordinary word for me until
several of my close relatives went into hospitals for treatment of some
disease or medical condition. Each of them got much sicker by picking up
a new antibiotic-resistant disease that was a permanent resident of the
operating rooms or intensive care units.  That sure was a solid
demonstration of the dangers of iatrogenic diseases!

There's a common thread in Marie's question and my memory of having lost
the word "iatrogenic" time and again until events finally fixed it in my
head.  I'd love to head what some of our leading dictionary experts have
to say about something no dictionary ever solves for me.  What do you do
when you know there's a word for something, but have no memory of the
word itself?

I just thought of an example that has frustrated me more than once. What
do you call a writing system that begins in a corner, goes in one
direction until it comes to the other side of the writing surface, then
turns around and goes back?  One line is written from left to right, the
next from right to left, and so on.  I know that there is a word for
that; I even think I remember that its etymology has to do with the way
oxen (or is that mules or horses?) would pull a simple plow across a
field. But I can't look it up until I remember it, at which point I
won't need to look it up.

There just doesn't seem to be any way a dictionary could help me with
that kind of problem.  The only way I can think of that might produce an
answer would be to ask
anybody and everybody I can talk to if they happen to know the word. . .
If I ever found someone claiming to know, then I'd have something to
take to a dictionary for verification.  But where is there a dictionary
equivalent of a criss-cross (or reverse) telephone directory?

-- mike salovesh                    <salovesh at niu.edu>

P.S.:  Funny how memory works.  All of a sudden I have the impression
that the word I seek for a kind of writing system starts, maybe, with
something like "bucepholo- "  I'll go to the next room and check it out
in our collection of dictionaries -- on my way to bed, after I log off
this system.

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