Saturday, September 8, 2007


Homographs (words whose only relation to each other is their identical spelling) can create major problems in medical documentation. Often, a dictating physician will use a term which, when spoken, can communicate his thoughts to someone who hears him pronounce the word. Unfortunately, when the same word appears in print, it can have a radically different meaning.
Here is the classic example: When used as a root form, the noun "pus" denotes a liquid inflammation product made up of cells (leukocytes) and a thin fluid called liquor puris.

Doctors trying to use "pus" as an adjective will frequently attempt to describe a liquid discharge as being "pus-sy" in nature. Instead, they should use terms such as "pus-like" or "purulent."

Why? When read from a printed document, the word which is spelled p-u-s-s-y has two quickly recognizable meanings in slang.
  • One is a small kitten.
  • The other is a crude reference to a woman's genitalia (double entendres referring to Mrs. Slocombe's "pussy" were the source of a running gag in the popular British sitcom Are You Being Served?

    Some people may snicker lasciviously at statements like "Rectovaginal examination revealed a pussy discharge" when such sentences appear in medical documentation.

    Others may be highly offended.

Next: Abbreviations and Acronyms

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