Sunday, September 9, 2007

How Have Societal Changes Changed Our Language?

Throughout the history of mankind, civilizations have used a variety of means to communicate thoughts and images.
  • Primitive societies depended on gestures, drawings, rhythm, sound, and an early form of telecommunications known as smoke signals.

  • More advanced civilizations developed motion into dance, drawings into art, rhythm into music, and sound into language.

  • Over the years, telecommunications have evolved from smoke signals to Semaphore, wireless, and eventually, satellite technology.

Many people are drawn to medicine because it promises an exciting career. What makes medicine so exciting is not just the challenge of helping people manage their health. There is also the element of change.

Medicine does not change simply because of new diseases. Nor are changes in the language used by medical practitioners merely influenced by the release of new drugs into the marketplace. New words -- and new uses for old words -- reflect how language is being used in society at large.

A society's language changes as that language must continue to reflect the population it serves. The more diverse and multicultural a society becomes, the more diverse the language of medicine becomes. With each change in the practice of medicine (as with any changes in our society), words must be created or chosen to define what is happening and to communicate new thoughts.

Compared to how medicine was practiced at the beginning of the century, the echnology at our disposal is quite remarkable.
  • Syphilis and polio are no longer major diseases.

  • Although a cure has yet to be found, there is a much more sophisticated understanding of Alzheimer's disease.

  • Organ transplants have become a routine procedure.

  • Laser keratotomies can be done in the office.

  • Laparoscopic techniques have had a dramatic impact on the surgical suite.

Accompanying these medical triumphs are new words and new uses of old words to describe the practice of medicine. These words must be clearly communicated by the dictating physician and understood by the medical transcriptionist in order to produce a coherent patient record.

For example: Since 1970, two new uses for the word waste have entered our vernacular.

  • To get wasted (on drugs or alcohol).

  • To waste (kill) someone.

[Consciousness Raising Exercise #11]

Next: New Drugs and Diseases

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