Human Interest


Three years ago, I wrote a blog on TINNITUS, ringing in the ears. In it, I specifically emphasized the correct pronunciation of the word and carefully explained it because I heard people mis-pronouncing it all the time. I still do, and it gets on my nerves! In fact, there’s even a commercial on TV promoting a product for it in which they pronounce it “tin-EYE-tus” instead of the correct “TIN-a-tus”. Oh, my!

How can that be? Don’t advertisers have knowledgeable medical advisors? Don’t they verify the correct pronunciation? Mis-pronunciation of medical terms is very common among the lay public (non-medically trained people) as well, and some have become colloquialisms that are part of general conversation. An example of this would be the changing of Alzheimer’s disease to “Old-timer’s disease.” It is primarily a disease of the elderly so it’s appropriate, but Dr. Alzheimer, who first described this type of dementia, is being denied the credit he deserves for his discovery. 

Sometimes, medical terms are so long and difficult they are nearly impossible to say and spell correctly. Examples would be electroencephalogram or electroencephalography, which is shortened to EEG! or otorhinolaryngologist which is shortened to ENT! People get tongue-tied when they talk about the doctor who puts patients to sleep during surgery. Try saying anesthetist or anesthesiologist ten times in a row! It’s difficult.

Practicing in Indiana, as I did for forty years, a heavy Kentucky influenced sometimes added a challenge to understanding what patients were trying to tell me. The guy who had a “chest of locusts” (tuberculosis) or a lot of “fleem” that got caught in his “lare-nicks” was not uncommon. He was the same guy who had “prostRate” problems and had to be “rushed to the hospital” in an “ambliance.” His poor wife had an abnormal “mamm-eo-gram” and had to have a “maSSectomy.” She also had to have her eyes “dy-a-lated” by the “op-to-mologist” to see if “sugar dia-beet-us” had caused any problems. Their daughter has “ass-muh” and had to take “pena-cillum” and “pred-a-sone.” Unfortunately, she got so sick she “vomicked” and had “di-a-rear.” I think you see my dilemma!

Even nurses and doctors have terms they had trouble pronouncing, or they just say them differently. I had an ongoing fuss with one nurse about the term used to measure the width of the cervix during labor. She always called centimeters “sonn-timeters” and I called it the more proper “scent-timeters.” I told her the drink cost 75 “scents” not 75 “sonnts.” That ruffled her feathers, a bit. Then, there were two cardiologists who chose to pronounce fibrillation “fibe-rillation.” I never got them to explain why they pronounced it that way. 

Whatever you do, though, avoid getting “acid re-FLEX,” because the gastroenterologist will have to do an “endo-SCOPPY” and “die-ah-late” your esophagus. It might cause “fatig.” But at least you will know you don’t have “choledocholithiasis” (gallstones in the bile duct) and the “borborygmi” (growling stomach) you have is nothing serious. It’s good to know that even though you have excessive lachrymation, rhinorrhea, and paresthesias, you have nothing serious as long as you take your anxiolytic and angiotensin receptor blocker medications. 

When we use multi-syllabic, hard to spell, complicated medical terminology, it’s no wonder people have trouble understanding and pronouncing these words. Professionals have trouble with pronunciations, too. It’s not a bad thing as long as we communicate with, and understand, each other. It takes effort and interpretation sometimes, but somehow we all manage. 

Dr. G

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