Big words.

Possibly the expression might better be "Long Words." Still, this writer, being scarcely versed, even superficially, in the direction of the weighty word problem that now confronts medicine and pharmacy, does not claim to be an authority, other than as one of the "wonderers."

By this means he wonders at the capacity of those who comprehend the problem of modern art and science as applied to the subject of words in medicine and pharmacy. He concedes that Goldsmith's summing up of the schoolmaster's wonderful talent in the following words applies—

"And still the wonder grew
That one small head could carry all he knew!"

For fear that the reader may, after the foregoing, misinterpret the writer's position, he will state that he now refers to words that either cumber or encumber present-day literature, words as well as deeds that possibly fifty years from now will be looked upon as the example of the mind strainings of abnormal struggling empiricists.

In times gone by, when the medical and the pharmaceutical professions only were afflicted by the attempt to introduce inconceivably long words to explain (or obscure) ultra-scientific thoughts, the problem need not then have been very great, but to teach the people as a whole the meaning of these appalling modern words seems, to one who views it from the outside, a mighty task.

In the library where the writer of these lines studies this, as well as other subjects, is to be found an old book in which an attempt is made to represent different substances by pictured characters. For example, a triangle meant one element or compound, a triangle with a tail meant another, a triangle with a neck at the top and a tail at the bottom a still different compound, and so on until the triangle was completely utilized. Then became necessary the halfway triangle, which in like manner was marked to the limit. As chemistry advanced, the utilizing of other mathematical as well as geometrical characters and pseudo-geometrical characters became necessary. For example, a circle meant one thing, a circle with a slight curved line attached to the top another, at the bottom still another curve, until the circle in like manner had been exhausted. Thus grew up a wonderful nomenclature, which broke down because of the thousands and even millions of chemical compounds, rapidly discovered as alchemy developed into chemistry, in which the logarithms of mathematics were left behind.

In 1893, Dr. Wm. C. Cooper became interested in this problem, and wrote an editorial that is perhaps as apt today as it was then. Let us reproduce it for the benefit of physicians and apothecaries interested in ultra-scientific big words as applied to remedial agents, or may-be-remedial agents. It is as follows:

"A COMPOUND CASE COMPLEXLY TREATED.—Professor Lloyd has been rubbing me up in chemistry a little lately—the New Chemistry. Although I claim to be polyverbivorous, I confess that the verbitudinosities which he reeled off with such nonchalant abandon staggered me a little at first. However, I soon "got onto" them, so that now it is painful to me to have to hear the merely quintuple-jointed words of old-time doctors and chemists. Moreover, it is shamefully violative of that antique curio, the code, to use trade marked or copyrighted medical terms. Because I wanted to experience once the ethico-conservative sensation, I cocooned myself in the spirit of strict and consistent "regularity," and under that pressure of prim legitimacy I pen the following report of a very peculiar case which recently came under my care:

"WONDERFUL CASE.—Two weeks ago I was summoned to the bedside of Djoahnne Sdtleometzhler. The involute and labyrinthinate tangle of his symptoms made me suspect at first that he had absorbed his own name. But further examination convinced me that he was the victim of typhomalarariopneumophthisicotrichinotetanoataxionephriticosplenitis. Owing to the ubiquity of pathogenic bacilli, antiseptics are always indicated, so I exhibited calcium betanaphtholalphamonosulphonate. As the patient suffered from a severe non-localized pain, I gave orthooxyethylanamonobenzoylamidoquinoline, combined with salicylaldehydphenyldimethylphyrazolone.

His wife asked me what ailed him and what I was giving him. I told her and she said "yes" and turned very pale.

Upon examining him the next morning I became convinced that the vital forces had misconstrued the remedies and that a congeries of reabsorptions had resulted. I then wrote out the following prescription:

Sodium thioparatoluidinesulphonate,
Amidoacetoparaphenetidine, 1 ounce each. M.
A tablespoonful every hour.

"When the wife presented the prescription to the druggist he instantly dropped dead. The patient is up and about, but something is wrong with his Broca's convolution—he mutters a multisyllabic lingo which is intelligible only to modern pharmacal experts. I am in hiding, where the spiral melody of the woodbine that twineth blendeth with the sweet, low, soothing, murmurous, quadrisyllable, rhythmic tune of the gentle polygonum punctatum."

So much for the treatment of ailments by means of big words, as considered by that artful writer, Dr. Cooper. At the present day he could unquestionably do better than then by reason of the widened opportunities of word creators. Let us, from a modern publication designed for practitioners of medicine and pharmacy, quote a few words applying to the treatment of ailments very well known. Should the copyist either lose any of the letters or syllables, or add anything thereto, the loss, if observed, would not be a misfortune: Staphylococcusstreptococcusbacterin; Streptococcusstaphylococcus-bacterin; Streptococcusstaphyloocusbacterin.

Turning to another publication, likewise concerned in remedial agents, where an attempt is made by their names to distinguish or describe them, we find the problem of big words again confronting us. For example, we may quote (provided the copyist neither adds to nor takes from the original passage) an example as follows: Staphylostreptobacterin; Staphylostreptoserobacterin.

In prescriptions, such as might be needed compounded of several such items as per the not yet obsolete "shot gun" method of some physicians, two or three of these word wonders might be prescribed together (the things, not the words), thus simplifying the problem.

To sum up, some persons might imagine the writer is inclined to criticise facetiously, which is not the case, unless it be that he is wondering why short, expressive terms might not, for practical purposes, by "ethical" authority, be introduced instead of the cumbersome, many-syllabled words, which probably, like the characters employed in the days of early chemistry, are destined to break down by their own weight as the years pass.

P. S.—For authority to make the above sentence, read DeQuincy.


National Eclectic Medical Association Quarterly, Vol. 19, 1927-28, was edited by Theodore Davis Adlerman, M.D.