Tongue depressor

LUKE: I can’t relax. I can’t sleep. I’m having nightmares about being chased around by boxes with arms and they tackle me and pile clothing on top of my face and secure it around my head with packing tape and I’m just lying there choking while you’re sitting in the corner laughing, putting gel in your hair with a switchblade!
JESS: Should I be putting a tongue depressor in your mouth right about now?

A tongue depressor is the little spatula that a doctor will use to examine a patient’s mouth and throat. Jess is referring to the fact that they are also used when administering electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). A tongue depressor can be used to keep the mouth slightly open so that the patient doesn’t bite on their tongue during treatment – although mouth guards are more common.

None of the characters in Gilmore Girls seem to have much grasp of modern psychiatry. It’s as if everything they know comes from reading The Bell Jar and watching One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. That could be where the writers are getting their (mis)information from!

Vertigo

LORELAI: I think I have gangrene.
RORY: You do not.
LORELAI: And vertigo.

Vertigo is a condition where the person affected has the sensation of movement even when standing still, feeling like a spinning or swaying movement. It may cause nausea, vomiting, sweating, or difficulty walking, and is the most common type of dizziness. It is usually caused by a problem with the inner ear.

It is often confused with acrophobia, or a fear of heights, which is what Lorelai is probably referring to – being on the roof has made her scared to get up there again. Also, she went up on the roof before breakfast, so any dizziness she experienced could have been due to low blood sugar. Or a caffeine rush …

This is possibly a nod to the 1958 psychological thriller Vertigo, directed by Alfred Hitchcock, and based on the 1954 mystery novel The Living and the Dead, by French writing team Boileau-Narcejac. James Stewart plays a police detective forced into early retirement by acrophobia and vertigo caused by an incident in the line of duty. He is hired by an acquaintance to follow his wife, played by Kim Novak, who is behaving strangely.

Vertigo received mixed reviews upon release, but is now seen as a classic Hitchcock film and one of his defining works. Attracting significant scholarly discussion, it is regarded as among the greatest films of all time, and by some as the greatest film of all time.

Gangrene

LORELAI: I think I have gangrene.
RORY: You do not.

Gangrene is when the tissues of the body die due to lack of blood supply, most commonly on the feet and hands. The skin changes from red to black, accompanied by numbness, swelling, pain and skin breakdown. If caused by an infection, it may include fever or blood poisoning. Although there are numerous possible causes, diabetes and smoking are the most common culprits in “dry gangrene”. “Wet gangrene” is caused by bacteria, and the flesh rapidly becomes putrid and rotting. About 80% of people will die without treatment (20% with treatment), and amputation is usually necessary.

Dairy and Mucous, Salt Water and Vinegar

PARIS: Dairy’s bad too because of the mucous. You haven’t had any dairy in the last forty-eight hours, have you?
RORY: In my cereal this morning.
PARIS: Geez! Okay, well there’s a solution of salt water and vinegar that can help cut that.

Paris (who is allergic to dairy herself) tells Rory that she isn’t allowed to have any dairy foods before the debate, because it stimulates the production of mucous. It’s commonly believed, but in fact this is a complete myth. There is simply no link between drinking milk and producing more phlegm. It’s thought that because milk and saliva form a moderately thick liquid that briefly coats the throat and tongue, it gives the illusion of having increased phlegm, hence the reason for the mistaken belief.

However, she is correct that vinegar is a natural decongestant – the usual home remedy is apple cider vinegar with honey in it. Salt water is also an excellent gargle to clear the throat, so it seems as if Paris has put the two things together to create what she must think is a doubly-powerful remedy. I’m hoping she only intends it as a gargle – drinking salt water is obviously bad for you, and might make Rory sick.

Melba Toast

MRS. KIM: Lane, come down for your snack!
LANE: It’s tea and melba toast time, gotta go.

Melba toast is dry, crisp, thinly sliced toast which has been grilled twice, often served with soup or salad, or topped with pate. It is named after Australian opera star Dame Nellie Melba, born Helen Mitchell (1861-1931), and thought to date to 1897, when the singer was very ill, and this thin toast became the staple of her diet. The toast was created for her by French chef Auguste Escoffier. You can buy them in boxes, just like crackers.

Lane’s snack is therefore very dry and uninteresting, just a cut above dry bread and water.

Botulism

LUKE: First I have to buy it, then I have to eat it?
LORELAI: Hey, the basket of botulism does come with my company.

Botulism is a rare and potentially fatal illness caused by a toxin produced by bacteria. The illness begins with fatigue and blurred vision, followed by weakness in the chest and limbs. Vomiting and diarrhoea can also occur. Paralysis can last for 2-8 weeks, and 5-10% of cases end in death. The most common cause is food poisoning. There are an average of 145 cases of botulism in the US each year, often caused by home-canned foods.

I’m not sure Lorelai is entirely joking about the chance of botulism.

Turkey-Calling Contest

DEAN: So buck tradition.
RORY: Are you kidding? Do you remember how mad Taylor was when I was sick and I couldn’t go to the turkey-calling contest?

Turkey calling is a type of contest held in North America, where contestants must try to mimic the sound of a turkey so successfully that judges cannot tell the difference between the human and a real turkey. They may use their voice (“natural turkey calling”), or use instruments made of wood, glass, metal, etc, and must perform five different calls.

Turkey calling contests are usually held during the turkey hunting season, in the fall, with Thanksgiving providing a natural occasion to include one. The other season for turkey calling contests is the spring, during the turkey mating season.

If Stars Hollow holds theirs at Thanksgiving, it isn’t mentioned in the Thanksgiving episode we see (that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen offscreen, of course). Also, Rory wasn’t sick the previous Thanksgiving – she seemed fine at the Chilton play, which occurred around the same time. That means that if it’s held at Thanksgiving, Rory must have been sick at Thanksgiving 2000, which took place between “Love and War and Snow” and “Rory’s Dance”. She and Dean had just begun dating then, so he would be able to remember her being too sick to participate.

Another possibility is that it’s part of the Autumn Festival, in early November. Rory wasn’t sick for the 2000 one, but is just possible she was sick the previous year, in 2001. We see her just before and after the festival but not on the day itself, so if she was sick, it would have just been a 24-hour bug (food poisoning from leftovers???).

This is the first mention we get of Taylor apparently insisting that Rory participate in every Stars Hollow activity, even though she didn’t go on the teen hayride in the pilot episode. It puts a slightly sinister spin on the enforced fun that Rory seems to have been pressured into.

“We order way too much”

RICHARD: Lorelai, you cannot order all of that food. You’re teaching your daughter wastefulness and gluttony.
LORELAI: Um Dad, we do this all the time. We order way too much and then we eat like a third of it and live off the leftovers for a week and a half. It’s a finely honed system.

More evidence that Lorelai and Rory don’t really eat that much. They order a huge amount of food, but then only eat 30% of it. The leftovers take them another ten days to get through, suggesting they’re only picking at them. That doesn’t sound like people with big appetites.

They’re also not worried about food poisoning – you’re meant to eat leftovers within two days (four at the absolute most), not ten! How they never get sick is a miracle. Unless constant vomiting and diarrhoea is their secret to staying slim.

Rabies

PARIS: I think I got rabies.
RORY: It’s just a bus, Paris.

Rabies is a viral disease causing inflammation of the brain. It usually begins with a fever, progresses to nausea, vomiting, confusion, and loss of consciousness, and almost always ending in death. It is spread from bites from an infected animal, such as a dog (globally, the most common cause of infection). In North America, where dogs are usually vaccinated against rabies, it is nearly always spread by bats. Most deaths are in Africa and Asia.

Consumption, The Vapours, Leeching

LORELAI: Actually … I’m sick.
EMILY: I knew it, what’s wrong?
LORELAI: Consumption with a touch of the vapors. I’m going for a leeching tonight after coffee.

Consumption: a 19th century word for tuberculosis, an infectious disease mostly affecting the lungs. It was seen as a romantic disease affecting artists, poets and composers, whose creative talent would somehow be amplified. In real life, it was primarily a disease of the urban poor, due to their cramped conditions.

The vapours: an old word, dating to antiquity but still used in the 19th century, for a variety of medical issues which might include depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, fainting, or PMS. It was only ever used towards women, and ascribed to female hysteria.

Leeching: from ancient times, leeches were used medically, becoming especially popular in the medieval and early modern period to take blood from a patient, which was thought to balance the “humours” of the body. Although this went out of fashion, leeches began to be used in the 1970s, as it was realised the proteins in their saliva had numerous medical benefits, and they were classified as a medical device in the US in 2004.