The More Things Change | Issue 05

The More Things Change | Issue 05

25 March - 31 March

This week, there is some very bad behaviour and a serious conflict about punctuation.

27 March, 1915: Public health authorities arrested and quarantined Mary Mallon, who is better known as Typhoid Mary, so named because she was the first known healthy carrier of typhoid fever. Because of her lack of symptoms she refused to accept that she could be the source of the outbreaks that seemed to follow her, and in her job as a cook she moved from city to city and left a trail of pestilence and death wherever she went. She also managed to evade the authorities for several years, which does give her a mild sense of mystery. In the end, though, she caused at least a dozen outbreaks of typhoid fever and possibly as many as fifty resulting deaths, which makes her rather less dark and enigmatic and more of a terrible, heartless criminal. (And she died of pneumonia, so there wasn’t even any poetic justice.)

28 March, 37: A couple of weeks after the death of his predecessor Tiberius, Caligula was made Roman Emperor. The first several months of his reign were peaceful and uncomplicated, but then he fell ill, and after he recovered he started to behave in fairly bizarre ways. He started by killing or exiling people he was close to or felt threatened by, sparing only one member of his family so he could keep him around to laugh at. This was only the beginning of a reign that made him one of the more notorious Roman emperors: he very quickly spent the fortune Tiberius had amassed, claimed to be a god and had the Senate worship him, caused the people to starve because he’d deliberately wasted money building a bridge, and had innocent people eaten by animals because he was bored. He also happened to kick off the chain of events that led to the fall of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, which is perhaps why he was the first Roman emperor to be assassinated.

29 March, 1990: After the fall of Communism in Czechoslovakia, its parliament was officially unable to agree on what to name the country. This was the beginning of the lengthy debate known as the Hyphen War, which might just be the least dramatic name for a political disagreement ever. It divided the country, sparking conflict about dashes, hyphens, and capitalisation; the “war” was resolved in 1993 when, after much linguistic wrangling, the country was divided into the two states of the Czech Republic and Slovakia. This event was called the Velvet Divorce, at which point everyone presumably started wondering who names these things.
This article first appeared in Issue 5, 2013.
Posted 6:30pm Sunday 24th March 2013 by Jessica Bromell.