vibrio

Now, this is a nice word to have on your lips and tongue: it starts with a vibration – /v/ – and at the next stop releases with a trill. Such a stylish-looking word, too: like two people dining at a table – candles i i, and is that a bottle of Chianti b? One of the people is wearing a v-neck; the other, across the way, has a – turtleneck? choker? halo? And perhaps vibrio is the cell phone in her purse, or the setting she has it at for quiet; maybe it’s the car they drove to the restaurant in; perhaps it’s the Italian soda in her glass, or a name for the seafood appetizer they’ve ordered.

Well, as long as there aren’t any vibrios in their water, soda, or seafood. Oh, that would be bad. The word may be nice on your lips and tongue, but its object not so much. Um, I hate to break it to you, but the most common collocation of this word is Vibrio choleræ. Does that second word there shake a frightening image out of your memory tree? Look, the word may seem nice, but it’s no gentleman, cholera.

Vibrio, you see, is a type of bacteria, and with a capital V it’s the name of a genus of bacteria. Along with choleræ its members include vulnificus (oh, my, that’s a villainous-looking word), parahæmolyticus (kill you just by saying it), fischeri (which is symbiotic with the fishery – in fact, it produces bioluminescence), and harveyi (which also glows, and, like fischeri, is able to communicate with other bacteria). Also quite a few others. Many of them are very bad for marine critters, and many of them are bad for people too. But especially choleræ – no one wants cholera. It may come to you in water, but you won’t have much water left in you if you get it.

So how did these microbes, some of which so unpleasant, gain a name like some Italian fashion god? Well, they have flagella – little whip-like hairs (many have just one each) – that vibrate to help move the beastie. Vibrios are generally shaped like s or like a comma, by the way. But while a comma may come with a pause, this one is not a pause that refreshes.

I will be on vacation for the next two weeks, so word tasting notes will be more sporadic until early February.

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