Home > cultural commentary, humor > From FLK to coffin dodger!

From FLK to coffin dodger!

I just came across a piece on the BBC that claims ‘Doctor Slang is a Dying Art‘. Apparently a doctor has been charting the use of informal abbreviations and slang, and come to the conclusion that they’re falling out of use – especially the terms that ‘spell out the unsayable truth about their patients’. The presumption is that the increasing level of litigation in relation to medical issues means doctors’ notes are being scrutinised in the courts, and doctors don’t want to explain terms that are, shall we say, uncomplimentary to the patient.

Some of these terms are fairly widely known anyway. Descriptions of patients include:

  • NFN (Normal for Norfolk – i.e. inbred)
  • FLK (Funny looking kid – I’m fairly sure I had that on my medical notes, but I’ll spare you the childhood pictures)
  • GROLIES (Guardian Reader Of Low Intelligence in Ethnic Skirt)
  • CTD – Circling the Drain (expected to die soon)
  • GPO – Good for Parts Only (wouldn’t apply to me, I don’t think I have many good parts left!)
  • LOBNH (Lights On But Nobody Home)
  • Pumpkin positive (inside of head as empty as a halloween pumpkin)
  • Coffin dodger (someone who by rights should be dead, but isn’t – which could well apply to me as well. Usually it’s an elderly person, though…)

So far as illnesses are concerned, there’s UBI (Unexplained Beer Injury)… Also PFO (Patient Fell Over) and PGT (Patient Got Thumped), which also tend to be alcohol-related. Ironically the one time I would have qualified as PGT it was because a complete stranger had been taking alcohol and crack, but that’s another story. Locations in the hospital: a geriatric ward might be called the ‘Departure Lounge’.

And in terms of treatment we have  TTFO (as the BBC puts it, ‘an expletive expression roughly translated as “Told To Go Away”‘) and TEETH (Tried Everything Else, Try Homeopathy – I seem to remember that on my notes at some stage! What worked, though, was shiatsu).

Nor are slang terms used only for patients. A surgeon might be described as a ‘slasher’, a psychiatrist as a member of the ‘Freud Squad’.

The original author of the report doesn’t advocate using these terms, and suggests that their decreasing use may signal a more respectful attitude to patients as well as a desire to CYA in relation to legal cases. And that may well be true.

However, the use of pithy descriptive terms and acronyms is common across many professions. There’s no reason why doctors would be exempt – and medical ‘backroom slang’ has always been robust, to say the least, possibly as a reaction to the nature of the work and the stress levels involved.

There are clearly instances here that suggest a less-than-respectful attitude to patients though having had more than my fair share of late-night visits to casualty departments (fortunately, usually, not as the patient!) I can see why that would happen. Working a night shift and patching up drunks is probably not what people went into medicine for.

There are lighter and more humorous aspects to medicine. Someone once dropped a heavy object on my foot by accident, breaking a bone in it (the foot, not the object). I limped into casualty. The triage nurse said ‘Well, I could see what wrong as soon as you came in the door. Just hop over to the those seats and I’ll get someone to look at it…’ I laughed. And hopped.

Any offers of acronyms/slang from other fields of work?

  1. March 7, 2011 at 2:34 pm

    I worked as a medical assistant in a clinic for ten years. I don’t recognize some of these terms; probably because their English. Here’s some American terms:

    FLA = funny looking adult, which hints at the possibility of inbreeding.
    F8 = crazy
    DS = drug seeker
    OO = odorous

    Also when dictating, a doctor will say, ‘This is a pleasant 58 year old who… which means they are nice. If a doctor does not add these lines to the transcript, it means that the patient is a nasty SOB. (And that doesn’t stand for short-of-breath.

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