Monday, April 30, 2012

Physicians’ code words

Two years ago, just after the death of J.D. Salinger (who was often, incorrectly, called a “recluse” by journalists), I published a list of journalists’ code words. Here’s a list of physicians’ code words.

“ ‘It’s all in your head.’ This is a code phrase for ‘You are desperately sick, but I have no clue as to why. Because we physicians can’t define whatever it is that you have, your insurance company does not insure it. Please pay by credit card or check before you leave.’ ” (Quoted from an essay on health information by historian Gary North.)

“Quack.” This code word conflates competent physicians that politicians don’t like (such as the physician who saved actor James Coburn from rheumatoid arthritis) and incompetent physicians.

“Folk medicine.” Code for medicine that politicians don’t like.

“Spontaneous remission.” What your physician will say if you have been cured by a “quack” or by “folk medicine.”

“Discomfort.” Code for pain experienced by anyone other than the doctor and his loved ones.

The Takeaway: If you are looking for a role model for clear thinking, speaking and writing, you should generally not select a physician.

See disclaimer.


  1. How many times have we heard about "discomfort," from the dentist as well as the doctor, and then there's "some discomfort." Which is worse? Discomfort or some discomfort? I think the latter. The qualifier suggests that the clinician knows it's really going to hurt. My mother used to say "it's all in your head." I never could understand why that made it less bothersome.

  2. Nice article, thanks for the information.