stat!

A Facebook exchange sprung up on the 16th about the expression in the title. The initial poster wondered about

the use by TV characters in emergency rooms or restaurant kitchens of “stat!” instead of “now!” I’d never heard it used in real life, nor on TV, before programs I’m seeing now from the past 15 years or so (at a guess). Its unfamiliarity makes it sound artificial, or contrived, to my ear. Hence my curiosity. Where was I when it became a thing?

The poster pretty clearly recognizes that they might be in the grip of the Recency Illusion, the belief that since you’ve noticed some usage only recently, that usage is in fact recent in the language (when it is likely to be considerably older). In any case, the poster’s recollection is of not having experienced the stat of immediacy (as I’ll call it) until about 15 years ago (the beginning of the 21st century), and then only on tv programs set in emergency rooms. (‘Right now’ would be a better gloss than just ‘now’, by the way.) Well, it was around on tv before that (at least 30 years before that, as other posters pointed out), and with reference to medical procedures or actions in real life — the model for the tv use — it was in use way before that, back to the 19th century.

(The restaurant kitchen use, an extension of the medical use, might well be genuinely recent, though I have no direct evidence on the matter.)

As several posters noted, the stat of immediacy originates in Latin statim ‘immediately’, clipped to stat, originally in writing and then more widely in print and in speech. (The gloss ‘now’ is not very good, because now is famously vague as to the size of the time-span surrounding the present moment it takes in. An extreme example:

In prehistoric times, we got our meat by going out and slaughtering animals, but now we go to a butcher shop.

This is very far from ‘right now’.)

The graphic abbreviation was (and is) used in prescriptions (take this drug as soon as the prescription is filled) and in descriptions of procedures (as soon as you do X, do this). According to OED3 (Dec. 2012), this usage dates to early in the 19th century. It continues to the present day, as one feature (among many) of medical abbreviations in prescriptions and the like (t.i.d. for ter in die ‘three times a day’, etc.), and more generally as one feature in the use of neo-Latin in medical jargon.

In any case, the spoken version stat quickly spread to urgent medical contexts of all kinds, and Facebook commenters with experience in the medical world reported, essentially, that it had been in use in these contexts as far back as they could remember.

And so it came to the movies and, especially, to television, where medical contexts of great urgency made for dramatically satisfying shows. Two in particular, M*A*S*H (set in a mobile hospital during the Korean War) and Emergency! (set in a unit of firefighters serving as paramedics providing emergency medical care in the field).

The tv series M*A*S*H (1972-83) followed a feature film, MASH,  of 1970, which was in turn based on a 1968 novel by Richard Hooker. The tv series Emergency! ran from 1972 to 1977. The intro for the show can be viewed here. And here’s the main cast:

Left to right, the actors are: Bobby Troup, Kevin Tighe, Randolph Mantooth, Robert Fuller, Julie London

(I had something of a crush on Mantooth.)

In any case, there was plenty of the stat of immediacy on tv back then.

(Thanks to the many Facebookers who provided comments and leads on this topic.)

2 Responses to “stat!”

  1. Bob Richmond Says:

    Stat! was a common medical usage when I was a medical student in St. Louis in the early 1960s, and remains so today. I’ve always understood, as you mentioned, that it was a shortening of Latin “statim”.

  2. arnold zwicky Says:

    From Mike Pope on Facebook, with a limerick of his own:

    When the monitor line has gone flat
    And the actors all wear a blue hat
    .. It’s a medical drama
    .. And there’s been a trauma
    And someone for sure will shout “stat!”

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