Medical Clichés :”A Taste of Your Own Medicine”
Ethicist Greg Pence writing in Newsweek comments about his experience with his college students’ writings which include clichés (tired,old expressions). He writes “When I grade written work by students, one of the phrases I hate most is ‘It goes without saying,’ in response to which I scribble on their essays, ‘Then why write it?’ Another favorite of undergraduates is ‘It's not for me to say,’ to which I jot in their blue books, ‘Then why continue writing?’"I also despise the phrase ‘Who can say?’ to which I reply, ‘You! That's who! That's the point of writing an essay!’" One may be critical of Dr Pence’s sarcastic responses, though his points about the use of clichés are valid. He describes a not uncommon confusing use of clichés in medical practice: “The language of medicine confuses patients' families when physicians write, ‘On Tuesday the patient was declared brain dead, and on Wednesday life support was removed.’ So when did the patient really die? Can people die in two ways, once when they are declared brain dead and second when their respirators are removed? Better to write, ‘Physicians declared the patient dead by neurological criteria and the next day removed his respirator.’”
Writing in clichés can make reading boring but speaking in clichés, I think is even worse, especially if the words are coming from your physician. I think most patients want clarity in what their physician says to them and clichés are often less than clear about what the physician is intending to convey. How would you feel about your doctor who, with a chuckle, tells you “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” or “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” or “time heals all wounds”? The problem with clichés are simply they have been used so much within so many different contexts that they lose their meaning and confuse the significance of what is trying to be expressed. Sometimes they can appear paternalistic or they can appear thoughtless. In medicine, clarity of thought and expression is essential and patients should not need to “read between the lines”.
For those interested in looking at a rather full listing of clichés that people use, go to ClichéSite. Have you been told any clichés as a patient in a doctor’s office? Write them to this blog. ..Maurice.