a/the cancer of this planet

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VicNicSor

Banned
Russian
Agent Smith says that humans move to an area and multiply until every natural resource is consumed, and then spread to another area:
— There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. Do you know what it is? A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet. You are a plague, and we are the cure.
The Matrix, movie

I think that in this meaning, with the preposition "of", it should have been "the cancer of this planet". Would you agree?

Thank you.
 
  • VicNicSor

    Banned
    Russian
    Then it should have been a different preposition:

    A cancer in our society.
    A cancer on this planet.

    But not "of":)
     
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    boozer

    Senior Member
    Bulgarian
    No, Vic. 'Of' is correct. The assumption is that the planet is plagued by many kinds of cancer. All those kinds of cancer actually 'belong' to the planet, meaning that they add to the general sickness that afflicts it...
     

    Scrawny goat

    Senior Member
    English - Ireland
    A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet. You are a plague
    This bothers me. A virus may (or may not) cause a disease. Cancer, as far as we now, is only rarely associated with a virus and plague is something else again.

    The benign explanation for this is that the author does not intend these terms, which have medical meanings, to be understood literally. A figurative use of cancer could certainly be ‘a cancer on the planet’. But ‘of’ sounds wrong to me.
     

    VicNicSor

    Banned
    Russian
    No, Vic. 'Of' is correct. The assumption is that the planet is plagued by many kinds of cancer. All those kinds of cancer actually 'belong' to the planet, meaning that they add to the general sickness that afflicts it...
    I didn't google "this planet" to not get results from this movie, but I tried this:

    "a cancer on our planet" = 30
    "a cancer of our planet" = 3 (all being from people's comments on social networking, who may be non-natives)

    I have an explanation too: "of" makes "cancer" quite specific, similar to "the beginning of a page". Do you disagree?..

    x-posted with Scrawny goat
     

    boozer

    Senior Member
    Bulgarian
    All I can say is that I have seen the film many times and this happens to be one of my favourite quotes from it and every time I saw it the expression stuck me as perfectly correct, apt and true, unfortunately. 'Of' is absolutely correct and meaningful for me.
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    Sorry but this is different from the OP.

    What about this:
    Google Ngram Viewer
    ("a cancer of the planet" is not picked up)

    again x-posted with Scrawny goat:)
    1) That Ngram in #11 shows some results but when you search for that quote by clicking on a date range at the bottom you are informed
    "Your search - "a cancer on the planet" - did not match any book results."
    2) Just because no-one has used a phrase before (that google knows about) is absolutely NOT a reason to say it's wrong.
    3) There is nothing wrong with "a cancer of the planet" - yet another native speaker telling you.
    4) a cancer on the planet would be acceptable too.
    5) the Ngram in #9 shows that "a cancer of the X" is very common - why do you wish to contradict native speakers who say X can be "planet"?

    (If you have certain "rules" in your notebook telling you this is wrong, you need to adjust at least one of those rules :D)
     

    VicNicSor

    Banned
    Russian
    1) That Ngram in #11 shows some results but when you search for that quote by clicking on a date range at the bottom you are informed
    You are supposed to click on the phrase at the bottom to get all the results, not the date ranges. As you can see, this phrase is relatively new an appears from the late 1970s on.
    5) the Ngram in #9 shows that "a cancer of the X" is very common - why do you wish to contradict native speakers who say X can be "planet"?
    It shows that "cancer of the" is common, which was not discussed here.
     

    Scrawny goat

    Senior Member
    English - Ireland
    2) Just because no-one has used a phrase before (that google knows about) is absolutely NOT a reason to say it's wrong.
    3) There is nothing wrong with "a cancer of the planet" - yet another native speaker telling you.
    4) a cancer on the planet would be acceptable too.
    5) the Ngram in #9 shows that "a cancer of the X" is very common - why do you wish to contradict native speakers who say X can be "planet"?)
    I disagree with you, and I’m a native speaker. You’ll need better grounds than that to have your view accepted as fact.

    As I said above, ‘cancer of the’ is the phrase used before the name of the body part affected. It is, sadly, a very common phrase. However, ’planet’ is not a part of the body so there is no basis to assert that this usage can be applied to a planet.
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    I disagree with you, and I’m a native speaker. You’ll need better grounds than that to have your view accepted as fact.

    As I said above, ‘cancer of the’ is the phrase used before the name of the body part affected. It is, sadly, a very common phrase. However, ’planet’ is not a part of the body so there is no basis to assert that this usage can be applied to a planet.
    And there's equally little to say it can't - that was the point. The planet is affected. It is clearly a figurative use, so trying to determine "correctness" with a literal interpretation is rather suspect:)
     

    Scrawny goat

    Senior Member
    English - Ireland
    And there's equally little to say it can't - that was the point. The planet is affected. It is clearly a figurative use, so trying to determine "correctness" with a literal interpretation is rather suspect:)
    Meh. Yes the planet is affected but the planet is surely more equivalent to the whole body than to a body part? We don’t say ‘cancer of the body’ or ‘cancer of the person’ so why would we use it with the planet?
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    You are supposed to click on the phrase at the bottom to get all the results, not the date ranges. As you can see, this phrase is relatively new an appears from the late 1970s on.
    .
    I am well aware that clicking on the date range does gives you citation for the phrase in that date range. Here is an example of the response by clicking on the in the 1981-1996 range from your Ngram in #11, where it shows a total of 11 citations (10 on the first page and one on page 2). The response I quoted above was what I go when I clicked on the three most recent date ranges 1997, 1998-1999 and 2000. Even though the graph shows its rise from the 70s it is still only 1/10 as common as a random example word antidisestablishmentarianism (andygc uses this as a frame of reference for actual frequencies) or 1/50 as common as a word I'd only seen recently huntingtin :D
     
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    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    Meh. Yes the planet is affected but the planet is surely more equivalent to the whole body than to a body part? We don’t say ‘cancer of the body’ or ‘cancer of the person’ so why would we use it with the planet?
    As usage has shown, "a cancer on the planet" is more popular but we obviously disagree on whether saying "a cancer of the planet " is incorrect. The OP was asking about "a cancer of this planet" and the planet could be considered a part of the solar system. There's no "absolute" here:D (Mr Google finds no versions with "this planet")
     
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    VicNicSor

    Banned
    Russian
    I am well aware that clicking on the date range does gives you citation for the phrase in that date range. Here is an example of the response by clicking on the in the 1981-1996 range from your Ngram in #11, where it shows a total of 11 citations (10 on the first page and one on page 2). The response I quoted above was what I go when I clicked on the three most recent date ranges 1997, 1998-1999 and 2000. Even though the graph shows its rise from the 70s it is still only 1/10 as common as a random example word antidisestablishmentarianism (andygc uses this as a frame of reference for actual frequencies) or 1/50 as common as a word I'd only seen recently huntingtin :D
    Anyway, the total of "a cancer on the planet" is 22 citations. It's helpful to compare it with "a cancer of the planet" than with "antidisestablishmentarianism":eek::D
    How is my "cancer of/on" different from yours?
    You eliminated the most essential parts — "a" and "planet".
     

    siares

    Senior Member
    Slovak
    I agree with Vic, possibly. I get that there are different cancers and different diseases, so 'a' works grammatically, but beyond that..
    X is a disease of this planet. doesn't work for me when X = humans.

    Humans and ? are diseases of this planet.:confused:
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    X is a disease of this planet. doesn't work for me when X = humans.
    Humans and ? are diseases of this planet.:confused:
    I would agree, if we are talking literally:eek: I don’t think anything is literally a disease on/of the planet.

    One concept of cancer is the unrestricted growth of a subset of cells to the ultimate detriment of the organism as a whole. The application to how humans are reaching a population overgrowth and the associated waste products and resource depletion and headed for significant changes of the planet as a whole seems to be a good use of the imagery of cancer.
     

    siares

    Senior Member
    Slovak
    The application to how humans are reaching a population overgrowth and the associated waste products and resource depletion and headed for significant changes of the planet as a whole seems to be a good use of the imagery of cancer.
    In my view humans are the only usable imagery of cancer in the context so they deserve a 'the'.

    If we have more comparable agents, there can be an 'a': Pride and greed are diseases of this planet.; so: Pride is a disease/cancer of this planet.

    (edited out)
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    The use if the is possible, but it pre-supposes that a cancer has been discussed and states that the humans are the cancer. The indefinite article can be used for two cases (they are a cancer): where it describes a property of humans or where it describes one thing on the planet.
     

    siares

    Senior Member
    Slovak
    Thank you Julian Stuart,
    would you please expand on the two cases? I don't get it entirely.
    Can 'cancer' be replaced by a generic disease, like 'a(ny) plague'?

    Thinking of Vik's posts about the preposition 'of';
    'Of this planet' as a real physical place reminded me of I'm a comedian of the United States! from Seinfeld. That's funny because of the 'a', right? It is unusually said?
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    What do you think of the humans on this planet? Humans are a cancer on this planet.
    What is one thing you don’t like about earth? That humans are a cancer on this planet.
     

    siares

    Senior Member
    Slovak
    Thanks, Julian Stuart,
    I am still having difficulty.
    The indefinite article can be used for two cases (they are a cancer): where it describes a property of humans or where it describes one thing on the planet.
    What do you think of the humans on this planet? Humans are a cancer on this planet.
    What is one thing you don’t like about earth? That humans are a cancer on this planet.
    I am confused by the change from 'of' to 'on', why in your explanation there is 'on', or is that unimportant?

    The first case - where it describes the property of humans, does it work when comparing two properties of humans, using 'of'?
    1) Humans are a cancer of planet X, but a health of planet Y.

    2) What is one thing you don’t like about earth? That humans are a cancer on this planet.
    For this case, talking about one thing on the planet, I don't understand why there is any article there. No article would also be correct, right?

     
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    siares

    Senior Member
    Slovak
    OK.:) It is better expressed....( or is it because of grammar, because 'health' is strongly uncountable? Maybe a medicine, to use something which is used in singular and plural like cancer is.)

    edit: just noticed that Agent Smith in the OP used the same word
    Yes! I wonder whether he could have used a cure there!
     

    VicNicSor

    Banned
    Russian
    Yes! I wonder whether he could have used a cure there!
    He meant they are the cure for the before-mentioned plague. Not necessarily the only cure, could be the best/most efficient one. "A cure" would not be so emphatic and vivid.
    OK.:) It is better expressed....( or is it because of grammar, because 'health' is strongly uncountable? Maybe a medicine, to use something which is used in singular and plural like cancer is.)
    I just think that using "health" doesn't convey the meaning of "making the planet healthy" well. And "medicine" just treats the illness (we are not sure if it necessarily leads to a recovery), but "cure" does imply that you will recover).
     

    siares

    Senior Member
    Slovak
    I just think that using "health" doesn't convey the meaning of "making the planet healthy" well. And "medicine" just treats the illness (we are not sure if it necessarily leads to a recovery), but "cure" does imply that you will recover).
    I agree with all, but I was aiming to replicate the cancer/a cancer possibililities from the OP sentence so I chose a noun used both as count and non-count.

    Are you yourself concerned with the type of the noun, or are you concentrating on the structure 'a (any noun, even a strongly countable one) of this place'?
    "A cure" would not be so emphatic and vivid.
    Precisely! Neither is 'a cancer' in OP to me.
     
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