December 28, 2003

Advantage: Google

Six relevant mad cow acronyms: BSE ( bovine spongiform encephalopathy); CJD and vCJD ( Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease); CWD (chronic wasting disease); FSE (feline spongiform encelphalopathy); TSE (transmissible spongiform encephalopathy).

Four on-line dictionaries: The Oxford English Dictionary (OED); Microsoft Encarta; Merriam-Webster OnLine; American Heritage.

All four online dictionaries have BSE. OED and Encarta have CJD, but Merriam-Webster and American Heritage don't. Only OED has vCJD. None of the four dictionaries has CWD or FSE. Only Encarta has TSE.

Score: OED 3 of 6, Encarta 3 of 6, Merriam-Webster 1 of 6, American Heritage 1 of 6.

Google, of course, scores 6 of 6.

[Update 12/29/2003: Mark Worden poitns out that I overlooked one acronym, nvCJD (new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease), which is another name for vCJD --

"New variant CJD (nvCJD) or variant CJD (vCJD): name given to a newly identified human TSE which is significantly different from other forms of CJD. The number of definite and probable cases is 153 people (143 in the U.K., six in France, one in Ireland, one in Italy, one in the United States, and one in Canada. Scientists have concluded that the patients in the United States and Canada contracted nvCJD in the U.K.)*22 (Both nvCJD and vCJD refer to the same entity. nvCJD is used throughout this information resource primarily and is preferred by many experts; however, vCJD is also commonly used.)"

Of the four dictionaries checked, only Encarta and OED have nvCJD. The OED is the only dictionary that has both vCJD and nvCJD, and it simply expands the acronyms, without indicating that the two terms are different ways of referring to the same thing.

Updated scores: OED 4 of 7, Encarta 4 of 7, Merriam-Webster 1 of 7, American Heritage 1 of 7, Google (i.e. the internet) 7 of 7.

It's a little surprising that on-line lexicography is not more up to date on these terms, since they seem to have been used in the specialist literature since about 1997 (CWD since the late 1960s), and they refer to various aspects of a matter of major public health and public policy concern. ]

Posted by Mark Liberman at December 28, 2003 10:24 AM