Buzz words, catch phrases, idioms, and kitschy terms proliferate every aspect of our professional and personal lives. According to the newest additions to Merriam-Webster, we can unplug (figuratively, having nothing to do with an electrical cord) and show friends receipts (proof of an action in texts and photos, not from Walmart) to avoid compromising our cybersafety. Although the dictionary documents these terms, rendering them legitimate (maybe for Scrabble purposes?) and lending credence to their presumed longevity, they often morph or fall out of use, giving way to phrases with that are more buzzy (ie, what folks can’t stop talking about).
Our use (which sometimes becomes misuse) of language must consider multiple meanings and what is acceptable at the time. These days, you would be hard-pressed to find a woman who is comfortable being referred to as a broad or a chick or a straight person who enjoys being happy and gay. When you get the 4-1-1, you are not dialing “information” on your phone (I am definitely dating myself), but rather, asking for more details, at the very least to get someone’s digits.
This language phenomenon certainly occurs in health care. In 1997 when I entered the world of medical writing and editing, my initial assignment was to interview self-described health care activist Dr. Regina Herzlinger, whose books detailed consumer- versus market-driven health care, the phraseology of the time. That was my first taste of the concept of prevailing professional lingo. That same year, the study by Argenta and Morykwas brought vacuum-assisted wound closure full-steam into the medical lexicon. Because the vac became so associated with one company, the terminology for the treatment evolved to negative pressure wound therapy, perhaps due to requests from the competition or probably because the manual of the American Medical Association requires the use of generic terms to describe product mentions in the literature.
We have witnessed the evolution from multidisciplinary to interdisciplinary care to explain care provided across different health care specialty silos, another catch phrase. (As a sidebar, I used to like silos until I saw Witness.) We have abbreviated; right along with shortening the President and the First Lady of the United States to POTUS and FLOTUS, we have seen long terms such as Clostridium difficile shortened to C diff, and organisms such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus popularized as an acronym (ie, mer-sa [MRSA]).
On the buzzier side, we have novel terms such as liquid biopsy (testing blood and body fluids) and biomimicry (studying systems and substances in nature to better understand human problems). And then there is the microbiome phenomenon. Microbiome needs to be distinguished from microbiota (the collection of microbes that live in and on our bodies); the microbiome is the gene set within the microbes. The terminology is not new (it was first used by American molecular biologist Joshua Lederberg in 2001), but it recently has been heard more frequently, woven into recent research and even soap commercials.
Bed sores/pressure sores/decubitus ulcers/pressure ulcers/pressure injuries seem destined to remain on the evolutionary trajectory, in part with an eye to what is being discovered about their development and in part with an eye to our litigious society. Debates about medical/legal ramifications aside, I am fascinated by the pressure revolution — that fact that this one health issue has had so many labels through the years is testament to our ongoing determination to comprehend the biological mechanics, provide solutions (or better, prevent these suckers), and get the terminology correct because in health care it is crucial that we speak the same language. If clinicians do not speak the same language, patients pay the price. Clinical Editor Lia van Rijswijk, DNP, RN, CWCN, has observed this with regard to wound assessment; terms such as reducing dead space and assessing bioburden in the wound have not been validated, and wound dressings such as moist gauze have been described as moist wound care even though there is zero evidence of moisture retention. Terms that evolve without having been properly validated result in ambiguity, inter- and intraprofessional communication problems, and potentially less-than-optimal care.
In every creation and metamorphosis of our professional and everyday speak, we must incorporate the new but remain aware of the old, original terms, underscoring the fact that language is dynamic and fluid, particularly in the scientific/medical world where investigation, exploration, and learning are ongoing. As such, part of the role of research is to validate the terms we use to assess/describe conditions and treatments.
Words also must be taken in context. A hog can be an animal, a person who takes too much of something, or a large, imposing 2-wheeled vehicle. I hope you are coming up with your own examples of words that cross many fields and have multiple meanings (please share them on our social media sites!).
As readers, writers, researchers, and clinicians (ie, people with many roles), we must stay current with the lingo, pay homage to word origins, and express ourselves as accurately as possible. Wound Management & Prevention welcomes all submissions of manuscripts that critically evaluate/assess wound care terminology. Catch you on the flip side.