Adam Fox, Pauline Cahill, and Michael Fertleman discuss why doctors use slang and give a few choice examples
- By: A T Fox, Pauline Cahill, Michael Fertleman
All professions speak a secret language, indecipherable to outsiders. This is especially true of medicine. Scientific jargon and three letter acronyms (TLAs) are increasingly a part of a doctor's everyday language.1 There is, however, yet another vocabulary that does not appear in any medical texts, journals, or dictionaries but is almost universally understood by junior doctors. This is medical slang.
Slang is defined as “the special vocabulary used by any set of persons of a low or disreputable character.”2 Perhaps staff in emergency medicine departments, the epicentre of medical slang, would prefer the kinder definition of “language of a highly colloquial type.” Either way, medical slang has a growing vocabulary, and over several years we have collected over 200 slang terms in use in British hospitals.
Medical slang seems to be an international phenomenon. Work from the United States and Brazil suggests that slang terminology often evolves locally.34 This may