When discussing the possible motives for the attempted suicide, Grand showed an almost finical anxiety over his choice of words. Finally, he elected for the expression "a secret grief." (1.4.17)
"You know," the old doctor said, "what they’re going to tell us? That it vanished from temperate countries long ago."
"Vanished? What does that word really mean?" Rieux shrugged his shoulders. (1.4.43-44)
The word "plague" had just been uttered for the first time. At this stage of the narrative, with Dr. Bernard Rieux standing at his window, the narrator may, perhaps, be allowed to justify the doctor’s uncertainty and surprise—since, with very slight differences, his reaction was the same as that of the great majority of our townsfolk. Everybody knows that pestilences have a way of recurring in the world; yet somehow we find it hard to believe in ones that crash down on our heads from blue sky. There have been as many plagues as wars in history; yet always plagues and wars take people equally by surprise. (1.5.1)