What's the 'significance' of the word bubonic in bubonic plague?
August 6, 2014 11:33 AM   Subscribe

This is one entry on a vocabulary list that asks for a definition of the word or phrase and the 'significance' of the word or part of the phrase. This is part of a 15-year-old's summer homework, but no explanation is given of what the 'significance' of the word significance is. My take is that 'significance' is kind of an inherent effect or consequence of the word; for bubonic, I'd say the significance is civilization-changing death due to uncontrolled pest and population density. Any other ideas?
posted by Huck500 to Education (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'd say the teacher wants to know what differentiates bubonic plague from other kinds of plague. Therefore, what is the significance of the word "bubonic".
posted by MsMolly at 11:36 AM on August 6, 2014 [9 favorites]

I'm not sure I understand your take. Bubonic refers to the type of plague that it was (current debates about this aside), it refers to the typical buboes associated with the disease. The significance is that this defines it in relation to other plagues.
posted by OmieWise at 11:37 AM on August 6, 2014 [17 favorites]

That's weirdly phrased. The word "bubonic" signifies that it is lymphatic-based and causes buboes, which is characteristic of that specific plague (as opposed to other related plagues, such as the pneumonic plague or the septicemic plague). The word "plague" for me has that civilization-changing death "significance", the word bubonic is just descriptive.
posted by brainmouse at 11:37 AM on August 6, 2014 [24 favorites]

I would guess the assignment is trying to get at "Why is it called 'bubonic' plague and not, say, 'pinkeye' plague or 'runny nose' plague?" They are looking for the meaning of the word "bubonic" within the phrase "bubonic plague."
posted by Rock Steady at 11:37 AM on August 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

I would read "significance" as a cue for the question, "why this word and not another word, or no word at all?"
posted by Sticherbeast at 11:38 AM on August 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

"Plague"a very general term, but "bubonic plague" refers to a particular disease caused by a particular bacteria.
posted by you're a kitty! at 11:38 AM on August 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

It differentiates one type of plauge (bubonic) from the two other main types of plague, septicemic and pneumonic.
posted by mygoditsbob at 11:39 AM on August 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

On preview, what brainmouse said. It describes where the plague "gets" you. Bubonic is plague that gets into your lymphatic system; pneumonic gets into your lungs; septicemic gets into your blood. They're all the same plague, caused by the same pests, but they manifest physically in different ways depending on a) how you got it and b) how it got you.
posted by kythuen at 11:41 AM on August 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

According to Wikipedia:

The term bubonic plague is derived from the Greek word βουβών, meaning "groin". Swollen lymph nodes (buboes) especially occur in the armpit and groin in persons suffering from bubonic plague. Bubonic plague was often used synonymously for plague, but it does in fact refer specifically to an infection that enters through the skin and travels through the lymphatics, as is often seen in flea-borne infections.

The question should have been phrased more like, "Why is this particular plague called 'bubonic? What does bubonic mean?"
posted by wryly at 11:53 AM on August 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

I agree with the answers here, it's just asking for the meaning of bubonic within this phrase. I clearly remember having to caution myself to take the "average reasonable person" approach to interpreting test questions in order to avoid the rabbit holes my overly scrupulous brain would send me into when I tried too hard to interpret some careless phrasing.
posted by Anitanola at 12:09 PM on August 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

What are the other words on this list? Is it clear in those cases what the right answer is? If those have more obvious answers, you might be able to reverse engineer what "significance" means in this case.

Another thing to consider: I recently graded a number of exams -- not written by me -- where the test asked for the "significance" of a number of words and phrases. On this test, "significance" actually meant "what is the importance of this item in the context of this class, i.e. what did we learn about this one thing in class/readings and how does it relate to other things we also learned about in this class?" My first instinct was to think that the right answer to this question is "whatever Huck500's daughter learned about bubonic plague (as differentiated from other kinds of plague) in the particular class this test was given for." All the other answers here about the definition of the word bubonic are technically correct, but in my experience asking for "significance" on an exam is not the same thing as asking for a definition.
posted by CtrlAltDelete at 12:20 PM on August 6, 2014 [3 favorites]

Would you be open to scanning the assignment so we could see the context in which this question is being asked?
posted by Hermione Granger at 12:26 PM on August 6, 2014

Also, keep in mind "plague" can be used as a generic term, too (as in the 10 plagues of Egypt). Bubonic Plague is a specific kind of disease, as opposed to the result of that disease in the epidemic that spread through Europe (the "Black Death").
posted by rikschell at 12:26 PM on August 6, 2014

I took a look at the assignment and it asks, "What is the meaning and significance of each," and the words are guild, flagellant, bubonic, a couple of others. I think CAD is on the right track here, and she answered based on the context of the class, and she's done, so thanks all.
posted by Huck500 at 12:35 PM on August 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

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