Some priceless nuggets from the NEJM on needless words in medicine

“The presentation began. She described a 62-year-old male with a UGIB whose history included CAD S/P CABG x 2, NAFLD, DM, HT, PUD, and BPH. I looked around as the barrage mounted. Four residents and two students were right on track. Clearly, I was the only one struggling to assimilate the letter collage into a portrayal of a sick person, past and present. As I grappled with whether the penultimate “ED” referred to erectile dysfunction or emergency department, a sudden awareness of a hero I’d never met invaded my psyche and displaced all else. How pleased William Strunk, author of The Elements of Style, would be by medical-resident discourse! ‘Omit needless words,’ he had admonished. How adept these young people were at doing just that. How bereft I felt at needing words they didn’t . . .

. . . More recently, in presenting a patient to me, an overworked intern described him as ‘socially negative times three.’ When I asked for a translation, he replied, ‘No tobacco, no alcohol, no drug use.’

‘What would you think if I described you as `socially negative times three’?’ I parried.

His answer was swift and on target. ‘Given the way the year’s been, I’d say that’s pretty damn accurate.’”

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