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What’s in a word?
  1. P D Welsby
  1. Western General Hospital, Edinburgh EH4 2XU, UK; P.Welsby@ed.ac.uk

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    Words are symbolic and usually represent realities elsewhere. Doctors make diagnoses “identifying the nature of an illness” using words that, if impressive, can be a substitute for thought, understanding, and insight. Some examples.

    Doctors use the word “effusion” when they should use the word “liquid”. Granted, most liquids will be effusions but a so called effusion might be pus, a possibility incorrectly excluded from the differential diagnosis by use of the word effusion. And the management is different.

    Dermatologists use posh words. Erythema nodosum sounds like a definitive diagnosis but translated into plain English becomes “red lumps”. Erythema multiforme becomes a “multiformed red rash”, Pustular dermatosis becomes “pussy spots”, and Lichen …

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