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Let’s Talk About „ē-ˈbō-lə

How hidden agendas shape the language of media and popular discourse addressing the Ebola epidemic.

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How Hidden Agendas Shape The Discourse Addressing Ebola

There has been a great deal of talk in the United States about Ebola since the first case in the country, Thomas Duncan, was confirmed in Dallas, Texas, on September 30, 2014.* From talk, grow associations. What kinds of military, political and social rhetoric are being employed in media conversations, and how might these usages affect the public’s perceptions of Ebola and Ebola patients?

Here, rhetoric is drawn from recent news coverage and public statements surrounding the Ebola outbreak to illustrate the manipulative process of defining the epidemic. The kinds of rhetoric include metaphors, neologisms, technical terms and everyday words.† Each of them are means to reflect upon the importance of engaging this topic with due consideration.



October 2, 2014

Definition: An intense military campaign intended to bring about a swift victory

Origin: 1939— “rapid attack,” from German Blitzkrieg; from Blitz “lightning” and Krieg “war”

Current use: “The fact that the targets and deadlines are passing is as much a cause for alarm as the fact of EVD (Ebola Virus Disease) spreading in a medical blitzkrieg across national boundaries. In particular, the comments from the the various agencies about their confidence level of halting, containing, and/or controlling the epidemic appear to be losing credibility.”
— Paul JJ Payack, Ebola-Tracker: Many Targets and Deadlines Announced by WHO, UN, and CDC Pass Without Comment, Global Language Monitor

ˈnaʃ(ə)n(ə)l + sɪˈkjʊərɪti + θrɛt

National Security Threat

October 6, 2014

Definition: The requirement to maintain the survival of the state through the use of economic power, diplomacy, power projection and political power (Wikipedia)

Origin: 1648— The origin of the modern concept of “national security” as a philosophy of maintaining a stable nation state can be traced to the Peace of Westphalia, wherein the concept of a sovereign state, ruled by a sovereign, became the basis of a new international order of nation states

Current use: “The chance of an Ebola outbreak in the United States is extremely low. And so it is very important for us to make sure that we are treating this the same way that we would treat any other significant national security threat. And that’s why we’ve got an all hands-on-deck approach — from DOD to public health to our development assistance, our science teams — everybody is putting in time and effort to make sure that we are addressing this as aggressively as possible.”
— U.S. President Barack Obama, as quoted from his address in the Roosevelt Room of the White House



October 16, 2014

Definition: 1. A large number of harmful or annoying things; 2. A disease that causes death and that spreads quickly to a large number of people; 3. A disastrous evil or affliction (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

Origin: Late 14th century— from Old French plage, “affliction, calamity, evil, scourge”; Early 15th century— from Late Latin plaga, “malignant disease”; 1540s— the meaning “epidemic that causes many deaths”; specifically in reference to bubonic plague from c.1600

Current use: “So as we face a plague that could spread with the scale and devastation of AIDS, Congress is once again playing partisan and petty politics. The NRA’s defense of its mass-murderous policies has now taken a quantum leap in its interference with the nation’s health, from being accessory to the unnecessary deaths of thousands to potentially much greater numbers.”
— Lawrence D. Mass, M.D., Ebola, AIDS, and Plague Inc., Huffington Post



October 22, 2014

Definition: A neologism combining the words “Obama” and “Ebola”

Origin: Oct. 6, 2014— A Tweet by Dinesh D’Souza, Author and Director of 2016 and America; also “birthed” suspicion of Obama’s U.S. citizen status: “Which is worse: Ebola, the disease; or Obola, the dream from his father?” (556 retweets and 436 likes as of press time)

Current use: “With the health of the American public taking a backseat to politics, and with the incompetence of those in power on full display, it is essential to wake the American people to the Obama administration’s role in helping spread the disease. #Obola: #Tyranny-IsTheDisease.”
Build Your Resistance: Obola: Tyranny Is The Disease,

ɒkˈtəʊbə + səˈprʌɪz

October surprise

October 15, 2014

Definition: Any political event orchestrated (or apparently orchestrated) in the month before an election, in the hopes of affecting the outcome

Origin: 1972— Nixon’s team announced the apparent end of the war in Vietnam 12 days before the elections. This practice has hence usually been “used preemptively during campaign season by partisans of one side to discredit late-campaign news by the other side.” (MSNBC, via Wikipedia)

Current use: “Ebola has become the October surprise of this year’s midterm elections, with Democrats and Republicans doing battle over everything from restrictions on travel to the disposal of a victim’s remains.”
— Elise Viebeck, Ebola is 2014 October surprise, The Hill



October 14, 2014

Definition: A neologism combining “fear” and “Ebola” defined by Mel Robbins of CNN as “an airborne disease that spreads through conversation, entering your brain through your ears.”

Origin: October 15, 2014— Fear-bola coined by Mel Robbins in her opinion piece “‘Fear-bola’ hits epic proportions.”

Current use: “So it is no wonder that Fearbola, or the irrational fear of Ebola, is sweeping the nation like a bad flu epidemic. Market Watch reports that sales of hand sanitizers and other disinfectants are up, and that stocks for companies producing protective gear such as hazmat suits are already rising as investors anticipate sales.”
‘Fearbola’: Ebola fears reaching epidemic proportions,

pɒpjʊˈleɪʃ(ə)n + kənˈtrəʊl

population control

October 13, 2014

Definition: A policy of attempting to limit the growth in numbers of a population, especially in poor or densely populated parts of the world, by programs of contraception or sterilization (Collins English Dictionary)

Origin: 1798— Rev. Thomas Malthus in An Essay on the Principle of Population, written in response to the rapidly growing population during the Industrial Revolution; “The origins [of population control] reach back to social current in the 19th and early 20th centuries, culminating in an organized birth control movement in Europe and the U.S. … After World War II private agencies and foundations played an important role in legitimizing population control as a way to secure Western control over Third World resources and stem political instability.” (Hartmann, B. “Population Control I: Birth of an ideology”)

Current use: “I don’t know…But I think this Ebola epidemic is a form of population control. Shit is getting crazy bruh.”
Chris Brown, tweet



October 13, 2014

Definition: 1. A contagious or infectious epidemic disease that is virulent and devastating; especially: Bubonic Plague; 2. Something that is destructive or pernicious

Origin: 13th century: from Latin, pestilentia: “a plague, an unwholesome atmosphere,” noun of condition form pestilentem: “infected, unwholesome, noxious”

Current use: “Is Ebola mentioned in Bible prophecy? … Jesus told the disciples to look for certain signs – earthquakes, famines, wars, false messiahs, and pestilence. But these signs have always been present. So how will they be signs of His Return? … He said these signs will be “the beginning of birth pains” (Matthew 24:8) … just like the labor pains of a pregnant woman, these signs will appear with greater frequency and intensity as the main event (the Second Coming of Jesus Christ) draws near.”
— Britt Gillette, Ebola and Bible Prophecy,



October 8, 2014

Definition:A legally recognized subject or national of a state or commonwealth, either native or naturalized

Origin: Early 14th century— “inhabitant of a city,” from Anglo-French citezein

Current use: “The first time a reporter asked a CDC representative whether Thomas Duncan… was an American citizen, the question seemed pretty tame. One could excuse it as a general inquiry about Duncan’s nationality during the first press conference announcing his diagnosis. But after the CDC declined to answer, the question kept coming. ‘Is he a citizen?’ reporters repeatedly asked. ‘Is he one of us?’ they meant.”
— Arielle Duhaime-Ross, Ebola Panic is Getting Pretty Racist, The Verge

* Center for Disease Control, “Cases of Ebola Diagnosed in the United States,” October 23, 2014
† Word definitions from The Oxford English Dictionary and their origins from, unless otherwise noted

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