07 December 2008


Doctors are often accused of talking in jargon. The implication is that they do this on purpose in order to create an aura of importance. They are also accused of concealing information from patients by using words they do not understand. Sometimes Dr Grumble feels the same about managers. Even the garage man uses terms Dr Grumble cannot understand. Quite often actually. As he writes Dr G's car has a broken spring of some sort somewhere. Dr Grumble really does not understand the function of this spring. The garage he goes to is a bit upmarket so you speak to a smart man in a suit instead of a bloke in overalls with an oily rag. Dr G feels more comfortable chatting to the mechanic. He's not sure that the smart guy has any idea of what the spring does. It is like one of Grumble's patients getting an explanation of what has gone wrong with his body from a hospital manager. Most of them wouldn't have a clue.

Sometimes Grumble hasn't got a clue as to what the managers are on about. One manager he knows (she is actually quite good) strings management buzz words together into totally incoherent emails. They really are quite incomprehensible. To Grumble anyway. By comparison doctors are really quite good. Dr Grumble has never ever heard a doctor talk about a patient haemorrhaging. Perhaps they do in the US. Perhaps not. But in the UK if blood is pouring out of a patient we call it bleeding. There is a simple English word for it and that's what we use. Curiously, patients often seem to use the word haemorrhaging. Where they pick this up from Dr G has no idea. Is it from the TV? There are plenty of examples of doctors using simple words when longer ones would sound grander. Would you believe that the gastroenterologists have a journal called Gut? And respiratory physicians have, yes, Chest. You can't get much simpler than that. There are others like Bone and Eye and Big Toe. OK. Not Big Toe.

One of the delights of the English language is that you often have the choice of several words that mean the same thing. You can close the door or shut the door. Close and shut mean the same thing. But there is a subtle difference between the two. Close is more upmarket. Odd that. How does Grumble know? He just does. Anyway it is nice sometimes to have a choice. It's the same with medical language.

If you have a blog you probably have some love for language. Dr Grumble certainly has. So do other medical bloggers who even address the wretched split infinitive. Dr Grumble is happy to split infinitives if it sounds right. He's going to tentatively give you an example. There you are. That was it. Quite painless. Not too bad really. But perhaps it is not surprising that Grumble failed his Use of English exam at school all those years ago. He has always split infinitives. And just look at all those sentences a few lines up with no verbs. And two sentences in a row beginning with and. Even one beginning and ending with and. Yes. They were right to fail Grumble.

Of course technical jargon has a function. There are words that Dr G uses that have no simple English equivalents. To do other than use the technical terms would require cumbersome circumlocution. C'est la vie. But management buzz words do get Grumble down. Especially if they are just strung together meaninglessly. The other day one of the young girls put in charge of old Grumble came with some good news about uplift. Dr G took a risk. He put on his best bewildered look and asked what she meant and told her that he had only heard this term in the context of mammary suspension. She was, of course, delighted that she knew a word that Grumble could not understand. She apologised and simplified her language so that old fart Grumble could comprehend. Grumble knew all along, of course. But he didn't let on. Dr Grumble, you see, has played buzz word bingo. If you want to play too click here for a bingo card.


Elaine said...

Good for you, Dr G. I have a pet hate regarding split infinatives and another about misuse of the apostrophe.

Julie said...

Personally I feel that anyone who can use the word 'synergy' with a straight face is a cad and a bounder..

Anonymous said...

Joy. Loved it.

I am becoming anally obsessed with the collection of linguistic quirks. I even write them down for future use. Best one this month requires short back story.

I am having a warranty dispute with the garage from whom I bought my car. In desperation, I finally phoned Volvo UK. Sharon, or was it Tracy, answered the phone and I was unable to get past her. I assessed to speak with someone who dealt with warranties and Sharon, or was it Tracy, said "Oh! No, Sir. The warranty department is not customer facing."

Customer facing.

Love it.

Maybe we should deal with NHS complaints by saying the NHS Pals department is not patient facing.


Anonymous said...

I meant "asked" not "assessed"


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