vegetative state

Discussion in 'Linguistics' started by Michael, Apr 12, 2012.

  1. Michael 歌舞伎 Valued Senior Member

    vegetative state

    According to wiki the term vegetative state was coined in 1972 due to our (then) new found ability to maintain a person 'alive' while in a coma. The common vernacular is refer to a person as a vegetable. However, the british refer to it as coma vigil (I think)?

    My question is, does the vegetative refer to vigil? How is vegetative, vegetable and vigil related etymologically?
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  3. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    The term persistent vegetative state was coined in 1972. It refers to a patient who has been in a vegetative state for a month, implying, as you say, that we seem to be successful at keeping the patient alive even though we haven't found a way to wake him up.

    After one year he is said to be in a permanent vegetative state, an admission that we don't expect to ever be able to wake him up. Since U.S. law does not define any form of vegetative state as death, caretakers are legally obliged to keep him alive.

    It was recently discovered that some patients in a vegetative state are conscious. They can hear and think, but are unable to respond or move in any way. Technicians have trained them to form thoughts in two different brain centers, producing brain waves that their instruments can tell apart, in effect giving them the ability to answer yes-no questions. Imagine what it would be like to be trapped that way!

    For this and many other reasons (such as sheer cost), there is a growing sentiment to amend the laws so vegetative patients can be allowed to die. This is one contingent of the "death with dignity" movement.
    This is not "common vernacular." It is just plain cruel and rude. In any case the slang word "vegetable" is normally used for a person who has suffered serious brain damage so there is no hope of him leading a halfway-normal life. However, these patients may be conscious and even able to speak a few words, but are simply incapable of taking care of themselves. People who are cruelly called "vegetables" are not necessarily in a vegetative state.
    Yes, although the person performing the "vigil" (which literally means "alert attention, watching for something to occur") is obviously the nurse, not the unconscious patient. So the term is an oxymoron if applied to the patient.
    No, it's just a phonetic coincidence. Animals are the only one of the six kingdoms of living things that can think, although many of the lower animals such as worms don't have enough neurons to merit the term "thinking." (The other five kingdoms are plants, fungi, algae, bacteria and archaea.) So a human who appears to be incapable of thinking is regarded as being in the same state as a plant, a "vegetative" state, rather than functioning as a true animal.
    The Latin verb vegere means "to thrive," and is the root of many obviously related words such as "vigor." Vegetare is an inflected form of that verb, with the enhanced meaning of "to enliven." To "vegetate" came to mean "grow," and the word "vegetable" was built out of that to mean "something capable of growing."

    Today we have narrowed the meaning to cover only certain kinds of plants with nutritious tissue, usually the leaves and stalks, distinguishing it from "fruit," "grain," "tuber," "root," etc.

    Vigil is a Latin word meaning watchful, or simply awake. Vigil and vigor are both descended from a Proto-Indo-European word wog- or weg-, meaning "to be lively, active, strong." The word velox, "fast," (from which we get "velocity") may also come from this PIE root.

    But the use of the English words "vigil" and "vegetative" in regard to coma patients is a coincidence. The words have nearly opposite meanings in our language.
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