Quick shot: a job title

Background: MSNBC now has a regular feature with a report from Dr. Calvin Sun, a native New Yorker who works as an ER doc in NYC, going to a different hospital each day, filling in wherever he’s needed; on MSNBC, he describes the situation at the ER of the day.


Dr. Sun on tv: earnest, passionate, compassionate, and terribly, terribly weary

Above, I used the familiar, everyday English job title for Dr. Sun: he’s an ER / E.R. doctor, ER doc for short. The formal job title is emergency physician (who practices emergency medicine, in an emergency department).

Meanwhile, I didn’t know any AmE name for a physician who filled in for other doctors as needed.

I knew the name for the corresponding person in newspaper reporting rather than medicine: floater, a position I filled for several years at the Reading Eagle in Reading PA, and one that Calvin Trillin has written a comic novel about. Can’t quite imagine it catching on for physicians.

And BrE has locum. From NOAD:

noun locum: British a person who stands in temporarily for someone else of the same profession, especially a cleric or doctor. ORIGIN early 20th century: short for locum tenens (mid 17th century: from medieval Latin, literally ‘one holding a place’)

But this item is a relational noun, describing a relationship between two specific people, a physician (or cleric) and their locum. Dr. Sun, and floaters on newspapers, on the other hand, serve promiscuously as stand-ins for anyone in some large group.

Then I read a CNN piece about Dr. Sun, and learned some job titles that were new to me.

In “ER doctor in New York details dire supply shortages from the front lines of the coronavirus fight” from 4/4/20:

As a per diem emergentologist who fills in shifts left empty by the increasing number of doctors calling out sick, Sun has the unique perspective of working in emergency rooms throughout the New York City area.

Item 1: emergentology / emergentologist. Something to satisfy anyone who wants a short — if at all possible, one-word — term for common or useful concepts. So: emergency physician is two words, emergentologist ((emergency + -ology) + -ist) is only one (emergency physician is 7 syllables, emergentologist is 6, so there’s a saving there as well, but a very small one).

Item 2: per diem ‘hired by/for the day’. Well, ‘paid by/for the day’, so by extension ‘hired by/for the day’. The payment sense is an old one in English. From NOAD:

adv./adj. per diem: for each day (used in financial contexts): [as adverb]:  he agreed to pay at certain specified rates per diem | [as adjective]:  they are now demanding a per diem rate. noun per diem: an allowance or payment made for each day. ORIGIN early 16th century: Latin.

English does in fact have a term for someone hired and paid by/for the day — day laborer — but it’s applied only to unskilled work. From NOAD:

noun day labor: unskilled labor paid by the day. DERIVATIVE noun day laborer

We also have the term temp worker, used for office workers rather than either professionals or unskilled workers, and coming without a fixed term. So, in the neighborhood, but not at all on target.

So per diem it is, Dr. Sun.

I do admire thee, Dr. Sun
The reason why, ask anyone
But this alone’s denied by none
I do admire thee, Dr. Sun

5 Responses to “Quick shot: a job title”

  1. Robert Coren Says:

    Yours is a quite literate readership, so I assume many if not most will recognize the allusion to Tom Brown’s poem. (Without looking it up, I couldn’t have given you Brown’s name; also, I remember reading it many years ago as “I do not love thee, Dr. Fell”, but Wikipedia has “like” rather than “love”.)

  2. arnold zwicky Says:

    Yes, I too learned it with “love”, rather than “like”.

    And, though I carefully explain a lot of my allusions, I also leave a certain number just out there, as little gifts to some portion of my readership (I was *sure* you’d get Dr. Fell). It’s also true that a lot of what I do is actually elaborate poetry of a weird sort, and poets rarely explain their effects and allusions (not all of which they’re aware of, in fact).

  3. Don Creach Says:

    In The Winter of Our Discontent, the main character says to himself (I’m doing this from memory):

    I do not love thee, Margie Young
    The reason why I cannot tongue
    But this I know, and know right sprung
    I do not love thee, Margie Young

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