Peter Mark’s clogged drain

Today’s Wayno/Piraro Bizarro, with a plumber who really knows how to sling synonyms:

(#1) (If you’re puzzled by the odd symbols in the cartoon — Dan Piraro says there are 7 in this strip — see this Page.)

Hard to believe that any actual person ever uttered egress conduit for drain pipe, or saponaceous residuum for soapy residue — or, better, soapy gunk. So the plumber’s report on an ordinary household repair is absurd; it’s as if he’d been seized by a terrible fit of technicalism that left him unable to resist thesaurisizing.

From my 4/10/21 posting “Z & G tumble into a thesaurus”, taking off on this Zippy the Pinhead strip —


— to discourse on thesaurus, thesauruses (including Peter Mark Roget’s), and thesaurisizing, concluding:

thesauruses [are used not only to find the mot juste, but] are also used clumsily, to vary vocabulary in writing just for the sake of variety; novice writers are especially given to pulling out a thesaurus and salting their prose with surprising words (overly vivid or elegant or unusual). The practice is known as thesaurisizing (or thesaurusizing or thesaurizing); see my 7/4/11 posting “Thesaurisizing” (with some links).

And then from my 2/11/18 posting “He meant to say “supine””:

The mistake here [in maintaining that prone is not what someone meant to say, in a situation where supine is the technically correct term] lies in [technicalism, in] assuming that technical, domain-specific (medical, botanical, technological, etc.) vocabulary is the true, correct, uniquely valid scheme for naming.

I deal with a huge number of medical staff, thanks to a truckload of medical conditions, so I get to see a wide variety of approaches to medical terminology. There are some technical terms that absolutely no one seems to use: dyspnea (for shortness of breath, in my case on exertion; I suspect that no one wants to try pronouncing it), stenosing tenosynovitis (commonly known as trigger finger; who wouldn’t prefer those four simple syllables?). (The technical terms might, however, turn up in patient summaries written by staff for other staff.)

There are other medical terms that everyone seems to use, even though there are everyday alternatives that many patients would find much easier to deal with: systolic and diastolic blood pressure, rather than (say) top number and bottom number (referring to the conventional scheme for displaying readings for systolic and diastolic pressures, respectively — as in 135/69, read as “135 over 69”); the point is that systolic and diastolic are not actually any more informative than top number and bottom number (contracting and relaxing might be more informative, but I don’t know of anyone who uses those terms).

And then there are terms with mixed usage. Two relevant to me: high blood pressure vs. hypertension, low thyroid vs. hypothyroidism. My familiar doctors (who are, alas, legion) use the everyday terms, but then we treat each other as equals, and as collaborators in my treatment, while recognizing that they’re the ones bringing the real knowledge and experience to the enterprise. Unfamiliar doctors, nurses in general, and assistive staff are inclined to use the medical terms, and sometimes to insist that I do so as well, but I believe they behave that way for a number of different motives: they believe that using everyday vocabulary betrays ignorance; they have invested heavily in the training that got them their jobs and want to display their accomplishments; I’m a person of substance and should use formal vocabulary appropriate to my status; they want to foster a friendly relationship between us; and more. Medical settings are very complex social worlds.

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