Anvilworld is a world just like ours, except for one difference: the world is suffused with a magical force called the Anvilforce. Anvilforce is not directly perceivable by homo sapiens and interacts with them only in one specific way. It changes the behaviours of illnesses according to one rule: if the name of an illness contains word(s) that are more commonly used/have meanings in other contexts, then its behaviour is derived from that other meaning. This might be too abstract to easily understand, so here's a few examples of the illnesses so modified in Anvilworld:

Tuberculosis: This is caused by tubers growing in the lungs and respiratory tract.

Cancer: The afflicted parts of the body rearrange themselves in the shape of the star sign Cancer, possibly interrupting normal function in the process

Down Syndrome: A developmental disorder that causes the affected people to be unusually prone to falling down.

Hand-foot-mouth Disease: A developmental disorder that randomly exchanges the locations of the hands, feet and mouth on the body of the affected.

(Tuberculosis contains the word tuber, therefore it is caused by tubers. Cancer is also a star sign, therefore it turns the afflicted parts into the shape of the star sign. Down Syndrome is obviously named as such because it makes you fall down)

After thinking up this silliness however, I came to realise that I might have made life on Anvilworld too hostile for humans. Is it plausible that humans managed to survive and develop up to at least the Bronze Age, in a world where sicknesses are tightly coupled to language? Can people who have yet to develop a spoken language take care of their own health when health itself is tied to spoken language, or is this too great a burden for nascent mankind to bear?

PS: Anvilworld and Anvilforce is so named because of their Anvilicious-ness. That's the trope that I thought best described what I was trying to do, but if anyone knows a better fit I'd appreciate it if you were to point it out to me.

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    $\begingroup$ Is this you saying "whatever tuberculosis is called in my world, it will have be caused by tubers"? Or could someone name their sniffle, "sniffle that brings wealth", and suddenly become rich? $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Commented Oct 28, 2021 at 15:50
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    $\begingroup$ How would diseases get named in the first place? An ancient doctor notes a respiratory illness and calls it tuberculosis. Now the disease changes to plants growing in the lungs, which is definitely not a symptom of the disease the doctor had previously observed and named. This is a new disease, which the doctor comes up with a new name for. Now the tubers-in-lungs disease has a new name, and takes on new symptoms, resulting in yet another disease that requires a name, which results in another disease, etc. After a time, nobody has the respiratory disease originally called tuberculosis. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 28, 2021 at 16:05
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    $\begingroup$ What if a word only represents the disease ? I wonder what the flu will do ? Chickenpox ? Mumps ? or a disease named after a person, like Alzheimers.. ref eponymous diseases, wiki en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_eponymous_diseases $\endgroup$
    – Goodies
    Commented Oct 28, 2021 at 16:17
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    $\begingroup$ So these guys can just rename all diseases as "does-nothing-syndrome-115" and it becomes a utopia free from health concerns? Doctor, quick, the patient was just decapitated, rename decapitation to "does-nothing-syndrome-9956" before it's too late!!! Like that? $\endgroup$
    – John O
    Commented Oct 28, 2021 at 17:02
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    $\begingroup$ Also in the news today: really, really strange things happened when a serious disease outbreak occurred at the Dyslexic's Coping Conference. People have been acting like clods, coffeeing and wishing, and having severe difficulty with their spleens. (people have colds, are coughing and wheezing, and having difficulty with spelling) $\endgroup$
    – PcMan
    Commented Oct 28, 2021 at 17:57

3 Answers 3


The assumption here is that we will still give modern names to diseases when by the modern times we will know on some level that diseases are prone to bad puns. I'd argue that we would not do that once we could collectively compare notes and understand what is going on.

The Anvilforce

The Anvilforce is determined to make (terrible) puns out of diseases. How does it gain that strength? For that matter, is it a malicious force determined to cause more problems, or is it a neutral force and it is what we make of it?

  • Is it based on the collective will of humanity, so that once we give the disease the common name of Tuberculosis, it starts growing tubers in the lungs
  • Is it based on what medical professionals, either trained formally or not, call something? So while we might call it Tuberculosis, as long as the body of medical knowledge call it Disease T8237, it will have a neutral effect on the Anvilforce and proceed as normal

Something else I would consider -- what happens when the disease is cured? Based on your example tuberculosis will cause tubers to grow in the lungs. Will the tubers disappear or die as the disease is cured or will they grow in the lungs as long as they can lay roots and grow -- something that will almost assuredly be more lethal than the disease. This will affect the survival of people after being cured.

Human Evolution

Reaching the Bronze age seems likely. I would be prone to think that the direction diseases would take would depend on whomever is the trained healer/doctor of the pre Bronze Age tribes.

They would not be giving ailments large and technical names, but likely a descriptive one. This could cause problems initially, but soon they will know not to name ailments, just treat them. A truly savvy healer might be able to juke the Anvilforce to help people recover faster, but it would be a thin line they would be walking.

I would expect the same ailment to have different Anvilforce effects based on region and common names.

Overall, I think as long as the wise healers of the people can pass on their insights on the Anvilforce from generation to generation, they will survive. Of course, this is ancient times, it will likely be known as the God's Humour or something like that. We will know of it, even if we can't perceive it.

By our day, it will be known that God loves Him some Dad jokes when you're sick.


Q: "Is it plausible that humans managed to survive and develop up to at least the Bronze Age, in a world where sicknesses are tightly coupled to language?"

No problem when it is language only

Whether people will survive or not, depends on the amount of disease present, and the seriousness of diseases.. it does not (normally) depend on words, or language. In your Anvilforce (field? influence?), illness and language get intertwined. Survival will depend on the causality ! Are some words deadly ? Or do diseases get appropriate names ?

Certain diseases just happen to get named after their symptoms.. in that case, this would have been quite obvious in the Bronze age.. Pox are these small pox on the skin, there is no other pox. In other language-only cases, I don't expect many problems. Disease happens and it gets appropriate names, afterward.

When it is switched on, things may change

Suppose this field is switched on.. it would be dangerous, when disease names would cause more difficult issues than the disease would normally cause. Does "measles" mean that your body is invaded by pig parasites, because a certain pig parasite is called "measle" ?

When you suffer from Rubella, your stomach gets stuffed with Russian banknotes ? Sometimes it could improve the situation of a patient.. "Parkinson disease" with this Anvillicious field would mean you'd go sitting in the sun, in the park all day.. Park-in-Sun.

Travelling to another country may cure you ?

Language sometimes takes a turn. You could take your cancer patient to the Netherlands, in the Dutch language "to cancer" is just a way of complaining. The patient would get in a bad mood complaining all day, instead of dying.

New words are dangerous (?)

Depending on the workings of your field, it could become really dangerous, when language is developing. Your people live in the late bronze age. For e.g. European languages, that would be at the time of old Greek en Linear I and II writings. These languages were complex, but not yet influence by technological changes, mass consumption or marketing. These generate new words every day. Life would become very risky for advertising people: don't go invent new words, like "sneakers" or "flywheel" because people could suddenly start sneak into other peoples homes, or take off as helicopters and fall down when exhausted (??)


Evolution of disease

The danger of disease isn't as dangerous on larger scale than you might think. We can show this by taking things to the extreme. Let's say you have a disease starting in the heart of a several millions people city. This disease is as contagious as the flue and has a 90% chance to kill you for 5 days from the moment you contract it. What will happen?

Although you might think that the whole modern world will die out, it is interestingly not as bad. Although the flue is very contagious, it is still difficult to infect whole groups unless in specific scenarios. The symptoms of disease more or less scale with the severity. A person with the disease is less able to go about and spread it, as well as other people avoiding that person. The kicker is the death rate. Although flue is contagious, it's spreading time is reduced to a single day for 90% of the cases!

With Covid you mught have heard of an R number. This is the amount of people an average sick person infects. An R of 1 means that you infect one other person on average. 0,5 means that you infect half acperson l, or basically every two persons infect 1 person. R of 2 means an infected infects 2 people on averages.This obviously changes from time to time for a disease, but overall for the flue, a highly contagious disease, this is 1,3. That is over a whole period. If the same disease only had a single day to spread, the R number suddenly drops. Any highly dangerous disease can eradicate itself!

There is also the question of immunity. Although not a blanket rule, if lots of people die from it, it also means there's people that do not have symptoms or do not get sick. That means they pass on their genes, making the next generation basically immune.

Together with a host of more minor ways many horrible diseases just don't make it. Only a special few like small pox survived for a long time. If in your world many diseases become horrible or deadly, it makes sense that the most people survive who don't get such diseases.


Language is obviously an integral part, but it'll quickly be used consciously or unconsciously to the advantage. You can't prevent that things mean something in one language or another, giving rise to badly behaving diseases. But what will happen is that disease with negative semantics will have less chance to spread.

...while disease with positive semantics will thrive! Some weird things will happen if some more powerful flue virus is discovered, which is jokingly called power flue. Suddenly the guy becomes more powerful, making it a desired disease. That means more spread, more awareness of the name and possibly the secret of Anvillism. With several around the naming conventions might change. Smart Covid, lean Ebola or the like will form. If they really nitice this they will start using it by changing the names. Tuberculosis becomes fortis pulmonis, Ebola perfectus cutis, the common cold the common health, etc.

You have created a new world where disease is used to be healthy and powerful. If a disease starts to act badly because of changing languages, change it's name. The interest in grammar fields all over the world are suddenly interesting and literally world changing.


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