“Unfortunately she received tuberculosis.”

Bummer of a present, eh? Everybody else received toys for Christmas, but unfortunately she received tuberculosis. “Unfortunately” is right!

Whatever happened to “contracted”? Isn’t that the fancy word for “got” when it comes to diseases?

Maybe, for a person who has risky habits or hangs out in risky habitats, “developed” would work.

“Caught” would work too, of course. Tuberculosis is an infectious disease, and so one could logically catch some germs as they flew through the air.

We kids used to “come down with” things. We knew that coming down with the measles was different from coming down from school with a friend, or coming downstairs with a Teddy bear; we understood how to use this clear and functional phrase. And it had a logic to it, too. In our family a genuinely sick child got to spend the days on the livingroom couch, cuddled under a Crazy Quilt lovingly stitched by an ancient family friend named Martha (“which is your favorite patch?” could pass any amount of time), forehead regularly touched by Mommy’s cool hand, lovely little food treats periodically appearing (who else has eaten butter lumps rolled in sugar for a sore throat?). This meant, of course, coming downstairs instead of languishing remote and alone upstairs in one’s bedroom. We were sick; we “came down.”

And, in the vernacular, “got.”

Is this where my student went wrong? Did he check a thesaurus for fancy words meaning “get” and find “receive”? I suppose that’s possible, although I would have expected that he would then test it by ear: “Have I ever heard anybody use ‘receive’ in this way? Have I ever heard of anyone ‘receiving’ an illness? Well, NO! So I guess it won’t work…” But no such internal monologue seems to have occurred, and in it went.

The expression cannot, I tell myself, be part of anyone’s dialect—family or regional. Can you picture the excuse-note sent in by someone’s mother—”Anthony missed school yesterday because he unfortunately received a sore throat”—?

The only thing my student received from me was a comment that “received” was the “WW,” or “wrong word,” in this sentence, with a notation in the margin that it was not an idiomatic usage. If he paid attention to the comment, receiving it will have been fortunate.

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About RAB

Teacher of English writing and literature (college-level); academic-freedom activist; editor and copy editor; theater director, costumer, actress, playwright. View all posts by RAB

23 responses to ““Unfortunately she received tuberculosis.”

  • David

    Did she order salmonella and the server grabbed the tuberculosis instead?

  • Murphy

    I don’t want to receive a sore throat, but I’m all for receiving butter lumps rolled in sugar. Thanks for the suggestion!

    • RAB

      I must confess that my sisters and I were occasionally known to fake the sore throat, so we received the butter/sugar under false pretenses….

  • bumblepuppies

    Depending on the underlying cause, perhaps “earned” would be better.

  • Bran MacFeabhail

    Words are so interchangeable no?

    • RAB

      SEEMINGLY interchangeable, and the thesauruses (thesauari?) don’t take the trouble to point out that very few words are actually pure synonyms. What’s sad is that it’s the very students who aspire to language variety who suffer from the thesaurus curse!

      • Bran MacFeabhail

        The only answer is to read. Read everything, more and more, until it seeps into your bones and you start to employ words as they were meant to be employed. A lot of kids I subbed for had the thesaurus curse; told them it made them sound less intelligent and that their teachers knew the difference. And that it was insulting. Haha, the last got a few worried looks.

      • Susan P

        I use my thesaurus, but the caveat is that one should always use words that they know how to use properly.

      • kokkieh

        Ah. The thesaurus curse. One of my high school students a few years ago was under its influence – he used words that had me grabbing my dictionary, not to check his spelling but to figure out what on earth he was saying. And he really wrote quite good essays apart from this one unfortunate habit.

      • kokkieh

        I should add that he used every word correctly. He just used very unusual synonyms. (Sorry for the double-comment)

  • Stuck

    Or, if she was really working at it, perhaps she ‘achieved’ it. Contracting is for schlubs.

  • RAB

    Brian, you are absolutely right. But hey, when you’re trying to get an essay done in the hour before class and haven’t really given it much thought ahead of time, who’s got time to read? *sigh…* The first year I was teaching, I got a student paper that was full of “fancy” words, mostly used wrong. I decided that rather than comment on each one I should just underline them all and make one summary remark to the effect that “the best vocabulary provides you with the words you MEAN.” Underlining, I recognized something I had previously not noticed: the words were in alphabetical order. I asked him after class the next day how he had decided on his word choices, and he confessed to going through the dictionary and picking out words he liked. Again, sigh*!

  • philosophermouseofthehedge

    Bring – take – brought – took…The list is expanding beyond comprehension.
    Words aren’t Leggos: the “color” choices matter. (Sobbing. Just sobbing)
    Lack of words. Lack of attention span. Lack of interest. Possible lacking in public school in instruction.
    (This used to be common in 6-8 grade and corrected there. But multiple choice responses don’t really teach anything or reveal anything.)
    Actually I got a real laugh out of this post….it’s so sad.
    Alphabetical order? It just gets funnier…and sadder that a student thinks this will fly.
    As always, a post worth reading

  • Susan P

    Help! I’m laughing and can’t stop! I do remember when anthrax was being sent in envelope. One might consider a situation like that “receiving anthrax.”

  • Susan P

    Reblogged this on The Curious Introvert and commented:
    This will give all of you grammar nazis a giggle.

  • yearstricken

    Went to an online thesaurus and sure enough, “receive” was listed under “get” with the definition “fall victim to.” So surely if you can get tuberculosis, you can receive it. 🙂

    • RAB

      That equation seems well suited to “hate mail” (I received, fell victim to, got hate mail)….tuberculosis, not so much. LOVE that word book ha ha ha.

  • RAB

    kokkieh: Yes, I know that experience–trying to understand a sentence by backtracking through the thesaurus. You might want to read this post: https://youknewwhatimeant.wordpress.com/2012/02/26/this-is-a-fragile-issue/

  • solberg73

    You might notice that with my spiffy new reliable net-access I pounced on the chance to stroll back in time, one gem of a post at a time. Laughed a lot, quietly, at your consistent invocation of the very same witty ripostes (sp?) I myself had intend to use as the high points of my comments(!) We obviously have a very similar sense of humor. Must add that your depiction here of the healing process of yore is incredibly familiar to me, complete with the quilt and even ‘Martha’. I enjoy reading folks quite different from me but there is something eminently satisfying encountering an ‘old friend I haven’t yet met’, or something to that effect.
    Btw, Hebrew, my daily tongue here, is a movable playground for dual-use verbs and the like. ‘Q-B-L’, the three-letter root for the notion of ”receive’ *is* used for maladies; most often heart-attacks or strokes. “I read the first sentence of this paper and ‘received’ a heart-attack.”
    Oh well, as Fermat said when running out of time; The Margins of this comment-box are insufficient to contain a complete proof, (or in this case a full list of examples. Once again, a joy to read; I have never regretted an hour spent perusing your wit and wisdom/ JS/ Israel

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