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The increasing pseudodignification of medical prose

Issue: 41(2) May 2015. Original articles Pages 31 – 35

Neville W Goodman
Retired Consultant Anaesthetist, Bristol, UK; nevwgoodman@mac.com

Abstract

Databases such as PubMed and programmes such as Google’s Ngram Viewer allow the measurement of the prevalence of words and how those prevalences have changed over time.
They also allow comparisons of the uses of words in medical English and more general English.
Many words that are disapproved of in style guidesincreased in prevalence between 1975 and 2010 (“up-words”).
Some, such as option or options and impacts (as a verb), were up-words also on Ngram; but others, such as words with the root address (which have increased 27-fold in PubMed), were not up-words on Ngram.
In general, the ratio of the disapproved to the approved of any pair of synonyms was higher in PubMed than on Ngram: for example, the ratio of raised to elevated was 0.25 in PubMed and 20 on Ngram; the ratio of given to administered was 1.5 in PubMed and 57 on Ngram. The relative synonym use can be expressed as a single figure, that is, raised to elevated was 83 times greater on Ngram than in PubMed; and given to administered was 38 times greater. For most of the pairs of synonyms for which comparisons were possible, the difference between general English and medical English has increased since 1930, when raised to elevated was three times greater on Ngram, and given to administered nine times greater.
As long as medical authors gain nothing by writing more simply and clearly, it will be difficult to stop or reverse the increasing complexity of medical prose.

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