Monday, March 31, 2014

The dehumanizing language of medicine

Last week I discussed an example of the dehumanizing language of medicine. Here are three more examples of dehumanizing language* and how you can help cure it:
“How are we doing?” Many doctors replace the pronoun you with the pronoun we, as in the condescending greeting, “How are we doing?” When I hear this, I help retrain them by responding, “So far as I have observed, you and your staff are doing fine, but I’ve only been here for a few minutes.” (If you try this, make sure to do it with a straight face.)  
“Gender.” On office forms, many doctors ask whether the patient’s “gender” is male or female. When I see this, I check the box for “male,” cross out “gender,” insert the correct word, “sex,” and write this note in the margin: “The word gender is a grammatical term – as in masculine, feminine and neuter. The biological term is sex. I am embarrassed to have to explain this to a medical doctor, but there it is.”
“Medication,” as opposed to the traditional term “medicine.” Medication connotes that a doctor (a medicator) puts substances onto or into the body of a patient (a medicatee), or orders the patient to do so. It also connotes that a patient (who, being only a medicatee and not a medicator) should not decide whether to put anything onto or into his body (self-medicate). When I hear “medication,” I politely insist, “Please speak plainly: Say ‘medicine.’ ”
The Takeaway: Let us take a lesson from the linguistic offenses of doctors: Communication consists not only of what we say, but also of how we say it. People judge us by both, so we must always try to remain consciously aware of both.

*I am generalizing; I am of course aware that not all doctors talk like this.

See disclaimer.

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