“The name of your medicine is… Each 5 ml contains 10 mg of Morphine Sulphate as the active…The solution also contains the following inactive ingredients: sucrose, corn syrup, methyl parahydroxybenzoate (E218), propyl parahydroxybenzoate (E216), ethanol and purified water.”
To my knowledge my father had never read Shakespeare. He didn’t like reading. I remember wondering if he had read all the literature about his last-gasp medication. There were sheets and sheets of it, all kept neatly inside a pink plastic folder. It seemed to me a further cruelty that one’s last reading matter might consist of horrorshow jargon like this. How do words like propyl parahydroxybenzoate (E216) come into existence? Does someone sit around thinking them up? Or are they just lots of bits of words sellotaped together? And why the secret code business afterwards? Aren’t the words complicated enough already? First of all you have to get out the thirty-three syllable combination of letters and then you have to remember a numerical code. Why not throw in some Hebrew script while you’re at it? Just to say the thing is as riddled with risk as robbing a post office – except at least you can wear a balaclava over your face while doing that: you can’t wear a balaclava while trying to pronouncing propyl parahydroxybenzoate (E216); the perplexity, the fear of failure on your features is there for everyone to see. We all know scientists are clever but do they have to show off about it all the time? It’s a good job scientists don’t name buses or supermarkets. No one would use them. Can you imagine if the number 14 bus was called methyl parahydroxybenzoate (E218)? Who the fuck would ever get on that? There’s something humiliating about words you can’t pronounce. They can make you feel like shit. And isn’t cancer already humiliating and shit enough without having your tongue twisted and nailed to the roof of your mouth by the name of the medicine you’re having to take?