Are fancy words in medicine necessary?
If you prefer to watch a video version of this article click below. Otherwise, keep reading.
I often receive messages from dog-lovers saying that they like my blogs and articles because they are written in an easy to understand language format.
When I was growing up, my grandfather used to share a joke about a person who wanted to sound “fancy.” Instead of saying, he had a runny nose, he would say he had liquens nasus due to acute rhinitis purulentis and when his dog peed on the carpet because of a bladder infection he would say something like, “My canis lupus had stranguria due to cystitis bacterialibus.”
I know this may sound ridiculous but there are two fields that still use complicated and hard to understand language: medicine and law. Perhaps because of my grandfather’s comments, I have always questioned the necessity of this “linguistic” barrier and wondered what the reasons are.
Both medicine and law require higher education and many years to obtain a very costly degree. I often wondered why a statement as simple as, “John owes Paul 100 dollars and promises to repay the money to John within a year” needs to be converted into a dense ten-page document full of legalese.
The same happens in medicine where we learned to write medical prescriptions in Latin (a dead language) and do the same when it comes to diagnoses and medical reports.
Four reasons why doctors and lawyers use strange words
My curious mind has tried to explain why this is still happening and came up with these four possibilities:
- Using Latin terms, which is a dead language, prevents lay people from writing their own agreements, reading their medical records or even writing their own prescriptions!
- The linguistic separation of medicine and law from the rest of life makes it appear more prestigious and special.
- When doctors and lawyers use unusual terms and words, they are less likely to be questioned or to have their mistakes uncovered.
- Universal medical language makes international collaboration and communication easier.
You may be wondering why a veterinarian like me feels the urge to vent about this. I am comfortable with medical terms but I am tired of reading “incomprehensible legalese.” I feel it is time for us, doctors and lawyers, to eliminate the notion of being special or separate from everyone else.
I imagine this transition will be slow but I am hopeful. There are many doctors and lawyers who make an incredible difference in the lives of millions and I do not want to discount the importance of their work. However, other professions have also had a huge impact on the lives of others without using a language that only a few understand.
Wishing you exultet et pacificis volutpat vestibulum, 🤣
© Dr. Peter Dobias, DVM