SHANE’S EXCELLENT NEW WORDS: From prion to neurodegenerative in the lexicon of political disease.


Welcome to another installment of SHANE’S EXCELLENT NEW WORDS, a regular Wednesday feature at NA Confidential.

But why all these newfangled words?

Why not the old, familiar, comforting words, like the ones you’re sure to hear when asking the city’s corporate attorney why the answers to my FOIA/public records request for Bicentennial commission finances, due to be handed over on July 8, still haven’t arrived on October 5?

Bicentennial commission financial trail? What’s two (yawn) weeks (shrug) after 463 days?

October 5 update: Make that 13 weeks since the FOIA record request’s due date and  539 days since I asked Bullet Bob Caesar to tell us how many coffee table books were left unsold, and how much the city’s 200-year “summer of love” fest actually cost us.

It’s because a healthy vocabulary isn’t about intimidation through erudition. Rather, it’s about selecting the right word and using it correctly, whatever one’s pay grade or station in life.

Even these very same iniquitous, paving-bond-slush-engorged municipal corporate attorneys who customarily are handsomely remunerated to suppress information can benefit from this enlightening expansion of personal horizons, and really, as we contemplate what they knew and when they knew it, all we have left is plenty of time — and the opportunity to learn something, if we’re so inclined.

Today’s word is prion.


pri·on (prī′ŏn′, prē′-)


A protein particle that is the agent of infection in a variety of neurodegenerative diseases, including bovine spongiform encephalopathy, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, and scrapie. Prions are the only known infectious agents that do not contain DNA or RNA. They derive from a normal body protein that becomes irreversibly misfolded, and they proliferate in the body, possibly by acting as a template for further protein misfolding.

As often is the case, learning the meaning of one word leads to questions about a second. What does neurodegenerative mean?

What is Neurodegeneration?

The term neurodegeneration is a combination of two words – “neuro,” referring to nerve cells and “degeneration,” referring to progressive damage. The term “neurodegeneration” can be applied to several conditions that result in the loss of nerve structure and function.

This deterioration gradually causes a loss of cognitive abilities such as memory and decision making. Neurodegeneration is a key aspect of a large number of diseases that come under the umbrella of “neurodegenerative diseases.” Of these hundreds of different disorders, so far attention has been mainly focused on only a handful, with the most notable being Parkinson’s disease, Huntington disease and Alzheimer’s disease. A large proportion of the less publicized diseases have essentially been ignored.

If prion is the “agent of infection in a variety of neurodegenerative diseases,” then who better than the inimitable analyst Charles P. Pierce to provide an example of usage, underline in bold below.

In fact, Pierce’s satiric construction is a recurring feature of his marvelous columns in Esquire.

It’s Not Fair to Simply Blame Sarah Palin

… It can be argued, and it has been, that the president trusted for too long in the good faith of the Republicans in Congress. (Myself? I thought 30 seconds was too long, but I understand that opinions on the topic vary.) I think the president’s fundamental error lies in the fact that he fails to appreciate how far the prion disease of movement conservatism had progressed in the Republican party by the time he took office.

Republicanism as prion disease? It’s brilliant, and that’s why they pay Pierce the big money, while I diagnose local Democrats pro bono.