In So Many Words

Info-Comics by Larry Paros


Your Physician's Background

Please have a seat; the doctor will be with you shortly. He's come a long way etymologically, from the Latin docere, doctum, "to lead or teach." Our first doctors were teachers — learned men who had mastered a particular field of study, an accomplishment we recognize today by awarding a doctorate (c.1378) as our highest academic honor.

Medicine was one such field — its practice beginning when doctors started promoting their ideas through "that which was taught," literally creating a body of knowledge known as doctrine.

Convinced of its universality, they became increasingly inflexible or doctrinaire about it, leading to a form of teaching in which they started imbuing others with those same beliefs — a process known as indoctrination (c.1646).

Such certainty unfortunately invited abuse in the name of doctoring (c.1774) — people altering everything from the dice and the wine to the books and the records, making them appear stronger or better than they really were.

One of the more commonly heard laments is how doctors fail to spend enough time with their patients and offer only pre-packaged solutions. Too often they respond to patient problems in so automatic a manner as to be predictable — "knee-jerk responses," they say, thanks to a 19th century British physician named Gowers who discovered that striking the tendon below the kneecap with a sharp tap caused an involuntary kick.

"A bum rap," says the medical profession, arguing how an unbiased study of how doctors carry themselves would give them a clean bill of health.

During the 17th century, ships were checked prior to sailing to see if they were free of infectious disease, after which they were required to provide a document or bill to that effect. A clean bill of health allowed them to leave port; while a foul one delayed their departure.

Today, the only bill of health a patient is liable to see from her H.M.O. is one arriving in the mail in the form of higher premiums and increased patient's co-share, costs which are both onerous and sure to leave the patient crying "foul!"

Find the entire medical process trying? A word of patience: The Latin patient, the stem of the present participle of pati suggests you'll just have "to suffer."

When you are patient you are passive, describing all too accurately the role of the patient in the current medical model.

The times they are a-changing, however. Patients have had it with doctrinaire doctoring. They are no longer docile, from the Latin docilis, "easily led," replacing "You're the doctor," with "What's up doc?"