A Flu by Any Other Name . . .

By Al Kamen
Friday, June 19, 2009

Just when you thought the swine flu was behind us, the World Health Organization is saying it's a pandemic -- and concern is building that it could return during flu season this fall with a more powerful wallop. With that in mind, here are the winners of the In the Loop Name That Flu contest, aimed at finding a moniker catchier than H1N1, neutral on Mexico and fair to America's pork producers.

The many hundreds of entries -- coming from as far away as Afghanistan, Slovakia, El Salvador and New Zealand -- sifted themselves into broad categories: slams on 24/7 media hype; plays on the H1N1 name, some trying to work out anagrams that will be easier for people to remember; and creative ways to avoid defaming Mexico or speaking ill of pigs.

This being Washington, there were also a number of political shots at NAFTA and at Smithfield Co.'s meatpacking plant right near the epicenter of the flu's origin. So, in no particular order, the winners:

-- Esther Gulli, who works at the University of California at Berkeley, entered "CNN Flu," since "they truly made it what it is today." Chris Parsons, an associate professor at George Mason University, proposed "Fox News Flu."

-- Howard Walderman of Columbia, a longtime lawyer at the Department of Health and Human Services, thought that, since we're in Washington, it should be "Undue Influenza."

-- Kit Hope, a social services worker in Silver Spring, proposed "El Cochinito," Spanish for "little pig." She writes, "It sounds cute and harmless if you don't speak Spanish, it's a nod to Mexico and the swine, but best of all, when the flu comes back in the fall but it's different, we can call it La Cochinita."

-- Tom Parsons, a semi-retired science teacher and medical writer in Whangaparaoa, New Zealand, and Kenneth E. Davis, who works for the Duane Morris lobbying shop in Philadelphia, were first in -- just a few hours apart -- with "NewFlu." Davis predicted it will "disappear as quickly as New Coke," and Parsons noted it could be "recycled as needed."

-- Peter Metrinko, a retired government worker in Chantilly, was the first in with "Trayf Flu," playing on the Jewish prohibition on eating pork, while Larry Yungk, who works in the D.C. office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, offered "Un-Halal-atosis," referring to the similar Islamic prohibition.

-- Peter Neperud, a mathematician at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, submitted "Ponzi Flu," because it "starts with just a few, increases until widespread," and then everyone realizes "nothing is there."

-- Ruth van Baak Griffioen, a music historian at the College of William and Mary, proposed "Smithflu," to honor the meatpacking plant, while David Richardson, a government economist here, proposed "NAFTA Flu."

-- Richard Grabman, a writer in Mazatlan, Mexico, suggested "Montezuma's Final Solution."

-- Wayne Holly, who teaches at Midstate College in Peoria, tried "Hamorrhagic Fever."

-- A Foreign Service officer in El Salvador proposed"Y2K Flu," adding: "The same hype and senseless waste of money. Twice."

-- Finally, Bill Coleman, a corporate trainer in Pittsburgh, said he couldn't think of a name that "would not offend, embarrass, anger, insult, or financially impact someone on the planet," so he suggested: "PC Flu."

Congratulations to the winners, and thanks to all who entered.


Speaker Nancy Pelosi is expected to announce today that Sandra Strokoff will become the first woman to hold the position of legislative counsel of the House of Representatives. Strokoff, author of the second edition of the Legislative Drafter's Desk Reference, has been a lawyer on the legislative counsel's staff since 1975. She replaces Pope Barrow, who is retiring after nearly 40 years of working in the House.


Seems everyone's taking great delight in pointing the hypocrisy finger at poor Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.), newly admitted adulterer, who had an affair with a staffer's wife -- who happened also to be an Ensign campaign worker. People are pointing to an Ensign news release from July 13, 2004, when he spoke up to hail the sanctity of marriage. The release said he "defends the sanctity of marriage on the Senate floor."

So, what's the problem? First, he didn't get married on the Senate floor, did he? Second, the proposed constitutional amendment that he favored focused on saying marriage is something between a man and a woman. Well, Ensign was having an affair with a woman. That wouldn't be unconstitutional, would it?


Hurry! Noon today is the absolute last day to get some of the items left over from the Bronx High School of Science's spring gala and auction May 15, says an e-mail from the auction coordinator. The high school, one of the best in the country, boasts more Nobel laureates among its alumni than any other high school in the world.

There's a fine "Outstanding Item List." Our favorite is "Item 616 -- Hannity Observations -- a tour of behind the scenes and prime seating in the studio of Hannity, hosted by Sean Hannity, the show featured on Fox News daily at 9 PM."

"Value: Priceless. Minimum bid: $50."

People, please. Come on. A lousy $50 bucks for a worthy cause, and a priceless chance to actually meet Hannity.


Clarification: An item Wednesday on the travel habits of the lame-duck Broadcasting Board of Governors should have noted that while board members are not salaried, they do receive an hourly wage -- $73.41 an hour, or about $587 a day, in addition to expenses -- when they are on official business. So a five-day overseas trip would overseas would gross nearly $3,000.

We also misplaced an "r" in the name of a certain nightspot in Buenos Aires. It's Cocodrilo.

Staff writer Elliot Postell contributed to this column.

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company