After I use a phrase . . . A brief glossary of medical slang

Slang is the topic of a myriad dictionaries and different books, going again to the seventeenth century. Nevertheless, dictionaries devoted solely to medical slang are uncommon. Schmidt’s Dictionary of Medical Slang is the one common textual content of which I’m conscious, and it’s old-fashioned and lengthy out of print.

Defining slang

I’ve beforehand outlined medical terminology as a spectrum of sorts, from excessive to low1:

technical phrases—jargon—slang—colloquialisms—cant.

The imperfections of this classification illustrate the difficulties in taming medical slang. Many phrases that is perhaps considered slang are higher considered jargon, colloquialisms, and even cant.

Modifications within the language happen in a short time on this space, maybe quicker than in typical language and yesterday’s slang is not right this moment’s, whereas right this moment’s, newly minted, won’t be tomorrow’s.

The massive variety of abbreviations, contractions, and acronyms that litter the sector add additional difficulties. Take, for instance, DNA. When it stands for DNA it may be considered a technical time period, though it would equally be thought to be jargon or perhaps a colloquialism. Nevertheless, when it stands for “didn’t attend” it slips in the direction of the precise aspect of the spectrum and is both jargon or slang; when used pejoratively it may very well be thought to be cant.

And since slang is essentially spoken, relatively than written, the origins of slang phrases are sometimes harder to hint than these of typical phrases. Collectors subsequently discover themselves having to depend on phrase of mouth, literature that’s laborious to seek out, or fictional accounts.

This makes issues tough for the collector of slang phrases and the lexicographer who tries to outline them. Nevertheless, this has not stopped fans from making an attempt, and dictionaries of slang abound.

Dictionaries and glossaries

Normal dictionaries of slang have been round for a very long time.2 One of many earliest, maybe the earliest, was Richard Head’s 1673 textual content, The Canting Academy, or Satan’s Cupboard Opened,3 by which he described “the Mysterious and Villanous Practices of that Depraved Crew, Generally Recognized by the Names of Hectors, Trapanners, Gilts, &c.”

Higher identified is Francis Grose’s Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (1785).4 Grose started his preface by citing Le Roux’s “Satyrical and Burlesque Dictionary,” suggesting that the a number of editions that that textual content had achieved would “apologise for an try to compile an English Dictionary on an analogous plan.”4 Grose outlined the vulgar tongue as consisting of two components: cant “known as generally Pedlar’s French, or St Giles’s Greek” and “Burlesque Phrases, Quaint Allusions, and Nick-names for individuals, issues and locations.”

Nevertheless, these texts didn’t cope with medical phrases, and neither did A Dictionary of Trendy Slang, Cant, and Vulgar Phrases (1859), supposedly written by “A London Antiquary,” however truly by its writer John Camden Hotten.5 Hotten aptly outlined slang as “that evanescent, vulgar language, ever altering with vogue and style.” He did, nonetheless, embody just a few slang phrases used to consult with medical doctors: croaker or croakus, sawbones, and squirt, the final additionally referring to a chemist, by which he presumably meant a pharmacist or apothecary.

The nice twentieth century lexicographer Eric Partridge produced a number of books about slang, together with A Dictionary of the Underworld (1950)6 and A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English (1961),7 each large tomes.

Eric Partridge’s successor within the discipline, Jonathan Inexperienced, has written a number of dictionaries of slang, together with Inexperienced’s Dictionary of Slang (2010),8 in three volumes, and the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) has additionally spawned The Oxford Dictionary of Trendy Slang.9

Hotten famous that “the universality of slang is extraordinary,” and that “the professions, authorized and medical, have every acquainted and unauthorized phrases for peculiar circumstances and issues,” as did different teams together with “the fabric, … each workshop, warehouse, manufacturing unit, and mill all through the nation, … the general public colleges of Eton, Harrow, and Westminster, and the good Universities of Oxford and Cambridge,” in addition to sailors, troopers, and even cupboard ministers—nicely, thems the breaks.

And so it’s that many different dictionaries have appeared, coping with specialised slang. The sector is big. There are dialect dictionaries, dictionaries of rhyming slang and Yiddish slang, Liverpudlian slang, Mancunian slang, and Glasgow slang, sexual slang, the slang of particular teams, resembling The Sailor’s Phrase E-book10 and A Dictionary of R.A.F. Slang,11 and even dictionaries that cope with single phrases, resembling OK by Allan Metcalf12 and The F Phrase by Jesse Sheidlower,13 which was as soon as known as “fouler English utilization,” in an editorial in The (London) Instances.

There may be additionally plenty of exercise on-line, together with the City Dictionary (

Dictionaries of medical slang

Then again, dictionaries of medical slang are uncommon.

The Danktionary, compiled by the coyly named Will B Excessive, is a specialised lexicon of phrases about leisure medicine and their makes use of.14 Different texts embody A Dictionary of Slang Drug Phrases, Commerce Names, and Pharmacological Results and Makes use of.15 Nevertheless, the one full common dictionary of which I’m conscious is J E Schmidt’s Dictionary of Medical Slang (1959),16 lengthy out of print and naturally old-fashioned.

Schmidt’s dictionary is an uncommon hybrid of dictionary and thesaurus, or, as Schmidt calls it, a reversicon. Every entry is mirrored by an entry elsewhere giving the that means of the unique. For instance, the phrase “siphon the bladder” is outlined as “to catheterize the bladder” and “to urinate.” And the time period additionally seems beneath the headwords “catheterize” and “urinate.” It’s given as the one slang time period for the previous, however beneath “urinate” we’re handled to 17 slang phrases for the motion: piddle; piss; pee-pee; pea; pump the bellows; squirt; water the fireplace plug; take a leak; go primary; siphon the bladder; spring a leak; dew off the lily; shake the lily; shake a sock; pump ship; leak; drain.

In any case of which I would like a break myself.


  1. Coleman J. A Historical past of Cant and Slang Dictionaries. Quantity 1: 1567-1784. Quantity 2: 1785-1858. Quantity 3: 1859-1936. Quantity 4: 1937-1984. Oxford: OUP, 2004.

  2. “A London Antiquary”. A Dictionary of Trendy Slang, Cant, and Vulgar Phrases. John Camden Hotten, 1859.

  3. Smyth WH, revised Belcher E. The Sailor’s Phrase-book: An Alphabetical Digest of Nautical Phrases. Blackie & Son, 1867.