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Death from or death with?

A fortnight ago, I read Marc Trabsky and Courtney Hempton’s article entitled “Died from or died with COVID-19? We need a transparent approach to counting coronavirus deaths” (The Conversation). As an English language teacher for adults, I am used to answering questions on the sameness and differences in the meanings of words and phrases (e.g., work for/work with, look forward to/looking forward to, mandatory/compulsory, lease/rent, complete and finish, so forth). So, when I see articles on coronavirus, I think of the possible confusion due to the use of ‘from’ and ‘with’.

Trabsky and Hempton explained, “Clarifying what’s being counted as a COVID-19 death is necessary for understanding the impact of the virus, and for informing public health and clinical responses to the pandemic.” In short, death from COVID-19. They further stated: “If we know who is susceptible to dying with COVID-19 because of pre-existing conditions, public health responses could more effectively target and protect potentially vulnerable people and communities”.

One of the dictionary definitions of ‘from’ is to indicate an agent cause or source; for example, I have received a motivating note from our supervisor. Whereas, ‘with’ denotes accompaniment, addition, combination, or presence; for example, I will accept the contract with two conditions. Hence, in the case of COVID-19 pandemic, who is/are responsible for the lumping of statistics that makes it confusing or difficult for the public to understand its real impact? Is it the reporters, medical practitioners, governments, or organisations or individuals with vested interests?

COVID-19, as with other pandemics, has highlighted the importance of numbers. Without statistical information, governments and relevant bodies (particularly the World Health Organisation) would not have been able to grasp this new and mysterious virus that continues to spread. However, these figures should be collected, analysed and presented to the public accurately and simply. Pundits’ data (useful or otherwise) are often quoted, requoted and forwarded quickly and widely, notably through the social media, with positive or negative consequences.

This subject reminds me of a former student who took an extended sick leave and did not finish her C1 English language course. According to her colleagues, it was due to stress from work. I believed it readily but, now, I wonder if it was “stress with work”. How about ‘stress at work’? The first scenario gave me a scene of a horrible workplace that overpowered a happy personal and social life. The second one involved an unpleasant workplace due to uncooperative and rude manager or colleague, in addition to relationship difficulty at home.

Stress at work can be beneficial as it keeps us alert and productive, as long as it does not trigger life-threatening events, such as severe health and emotional problems. The only way to deal with stress is to identify its cause and then reduce or eliminate this. I hope you are not stressed with the distinctive use of prepositions in the English language: by, for, from, in, with, on, at, etc. (I played chess at the weekend/UK; I played chess on the weekend/US = I spent time playing chess on Saturday or Sunday, and not over/during the weekend).

Prepositions are generally short words but essential. Their misused can make a difference between a clearly stated opinion and a confusing statement. However, when used properly, they allow us to share our ideas, emails and reports more precisely and understandably.

(This article also appears in my website Rolade Societal Blog - roladesocietalblog.com)

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