Medical slang

Medical slang is a form of slang used by doctors, nurses, paramedics and other hospital or medical staff. Its central aspect is the use of facetious but impressive-sounding acronyms and invented terminology to describe patients, co-workers or tricky situations. It serves, in other words, as a convenient if often gruesome code between medical professionals. Medical slang is to be found in numerous languages but in English, in particular, it has entered popular culture via TV hospital/forensic dramas such as Casualty, Holby City, ER, House MD, NCIS and Green Wing.

Limitations on use

In many countries, facetious or insulting acronyms are now considered unethical and unacceptable, and patients can demand access to their medical records. Medical facilities risk being sued by patients offended by the descriptions. Another reason for the decline is that facetious acronyms could be confused with genuine medical terms and the wrong treatment administered.

In one of his annual reports (related by the BBC), medical slang collector Dr. Adam Fox cited an example where “TTFO” had been entered on a patient’s chart. This acronym means “told to fuck off” (q.v.). When quizzed about the term, the doctor was quick-witted enough to say it meant “to take fluids orally.” While this may or may not be true, it indicates the danger of using informal — and frequently insulting — acronyms.

As a result, medical slang tends to be restricted to oral use and to informal notes or E-mails which do not form part of a patient’s formal records. It may also be used among medical staff outside of the hospital. It is not found on patients’ charts and, due to growing awareness of medical slang, often not used in front of patients themselves.


Although online medical slang dictionaries are primarily from English-speaking countries, non-English medical slang has been collected by Fox from elsewhere. Brazilian medical slang includes PIMBA ("Pé Inchado Mulambo Bêbado Atropelado" meaning "swollen-footed, drunk, run-over beggar"), Poliesculhambado (multi-messed-up patient) and Trambiclínica (a "fraudulent clinic" staffed cheaply by medical students).

Annual round-up of medical slang

There is an annual round-up of the usage of medical slang by British physician Dr. Adam Fox of St Mary's Hospital, London. Fox has spent five years charting more than 200 examples, regional and national terms and the general decline of medical slang. He believes that doctors have become more respectful of patients, which has contributed to the decline. While its use may be declining in the medical profession, several dictionaries of the slang have been compiled on the internet.


  • 404 moment - The point in a doctor's ward round when medical records cannot be located. Comes from internet error message, "404 - document not found".
  • Agnostication - A substitute for prognostication. Term used to the describe the usually vain attempt to answer the question: "How long have I got, doc?"
  • Appy - a person's appendix or a patient with appendicitis
  • Ash cash - UK peculiarity of house officers obtaining payment for signing cremation forms
  • Baby Catcher - an obstetrician
  • Bagging - manually helping a patient breathe using an Ambu bag attached to a mask that covers the face
  • Bash cash - UK peculiarity of Registrars obtaining payment for medical reports on patients who have allegedly been assaulted
  • Blamestorming - Apportionment of blame after the wrong leg or kidney is removed or some other particularly egregious foul-up.
  • Blood Suckers/Leeches - those who take blood samples, such as laboratory technicians
  • Bounceback - a patient who returns to the emergency department with the same complaints shortly after being released
  • Bury the Hatchet - accidentally leaving a surgical instrument inside a patient
  • CBC - complete blood count; an all-purpose blood test used to diagnose different illnesses and conditions
  • CNS-QNS - Central Nervous System - Quantity Not Sufficient.
  • Code Brown - a faecal incontinence emergency. Often used by nurses and medical technicians requesting help cleaning up an unexpected bowel movement.
  • Code Yellow - a patient who has lost control of his or her bladder
  • CTD - "Circling The Drain" May also mean "Certain To Die"
  • DBI - "Dirt Bag Index", and multiplies the number of tattoos by the number of missing teeth to give an estimate of the number of days since the patient last bathed.
  • Departure lounge - geriatric ward
  • DIC - Death Is Coming, Death In Cage - used by veterinarians describing the complications of Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation
  • Digging for Worms - varicose vein surgery
  • Disco biscuits - refers to the nightclub drug ecstasy. Usage: "The man in cubicle three looks like he's taken one too many disco biscuit". Also means the drug quaaludes.
  • DNR - do not resuscitate; a written request made by terminally ill or elderly patients who do not want extraordinary efforts made if they go into cardiac arrest, a coma, etc.
  • Doc in a Box - a small health-care center, usually with high staff turnover
  • Donorcycle - nursing slang for a motorcycle, so named due to the amount of head trauma associated with motorcycle accidents, but less so with the body, making the perfect candidate for organ donation
  • FLK - "Funny Looking Kid - for genetic quirks or inbreeding.
  • Foley - a catheter used to drain the bladder of urine
  • Freud Squad - the psychiatry department
  • FTD - Fixin' to Die
  • Gas Passer - an anesthesiologist (also Gasser, Gas Man or Gaswallah)
  • GI Rounds - medical staff taking a break to eat lunch/dinner
  • GOMER - "get out of my emergency room" - a patient, usually poor or elderly, in the emergency room with a chronic, non-emergency condition. The name was popularized by Samuel Shem in his novel The House of God.
  • GLM - good looking mum
  • GPO - "Good for Parts Only
  • GROLIES - Guardian Reader Of Low Intelligence in Ethnic Skirt.
  • GSW - gunshot wound
  • Handbag positive - confused patient (usually elderly lady) lying on hospital bed clutching handbag
  • Hasselhoff - a term for any patient who shows up in the emergency room with an injury for which there is a bizarre explanation. Oringial Source: Baywatch actor David Hasselhoff, who hit his head on a chandelier while shaving. The broken glass severed four tendons and an artery in his right arm.
  • LOBNH - ("Lights On But Nobody Home'') or the impressively bogus
  • MI - myocardial infarction; a heart attack
  • M & Ms - mortality and morbidity conferences where doctors and other health-care professionals discuss mistakes and patient deaths
  • MVA - motor vehicle accident
  • NAD - Not Actually Done
  • NFN - "Normal For Norfolk", (a rural English county stereotypically associated with inbreeding.)
  • O-sign - A patient is "giving the O-sign" who is is very sick, lying with his mouth open. This is followed by the Q-sign - when the tongue hangs out of the mouth - when the patient becomes terminal.
  • Oligoneuronal meaning someone who is thick (not smart).
  • PAFO - "Pissed And Fell Over"
  • PFO - see PAFO
  • Pumpkin positive refers to the idea that a person's brain is so tiny that a penlight shone into their mouth will make their empty head gleam like a Halloween pumpkin.
  • Q-sign - see O-Sign
  • Rear Admiral - a proctologist
  • Rheumaholiday - rheumatology (considered by hard-pressed juniors to be a less busy department)
  • Rule of Five - means that if more than five of the patient's orifices are obscured by tubing, he has no chance of survival.
  • Slasher - surgeon
  • Shotgunning - ordering a wide variety of tests in the hope that one will show what's wrong with a patient
  • Stat - from the Latin statim, meaning immediately
  • Testiculation - Description of a gesture typically used by hospital consultant "when holding forth on subject on which he or she has little knowledge". Gesture is of an upturned hand with outstretched fingers pointed upwards, clutching an invisible pair of testicles.
  • TEETH - tried everything else, try homeopathy.
  • Tox Screen - testing the blood for the level and type of drugs in a patient's system
  • TTFO - Told To Fuck Off.
  • TTR - Tea Time Review
  • UBI - "Unexplained Beer Injury"
  • Woolworth's Test - Anaesthetic term (if you can imagine patient shopping in Woolies, it's safe to give a general anaesthetic)

See also


Further reading

  • Adam T. Fox, Michael Fertleman, Pauline Cahill, and Roger D. Palmer (2003). "Medical slang in British hospitals". Ethics and Behaviour 13 (2): 173–189. — Discussion of the "usage, derivation, and psychological, ethical, and legal aspects of slang terminology in medicine" as well as a glossary of common UK medical slang terms
  • Adam T. Fox, Pauline Cahill, and Michael Fertleman (2002). "Medical slang". British Medical Journal 324 (179): 179S.
  • Paul S. McDonald "Slang in clinical practice". British Medical Journal 325 (7361): 444.
  • Peter B. Hukill, A. L. H., and James L. Jackson (1961). "The Spoken Language of Medicine: Argot, Slang, Cant". American Speech 36 (2): 145–151.
  • Renee R. Anspach (1988). "Notes on the Sociology of Medical Discourse: The Language of Case Presentation". Journal of Health and Social Behavior 29 (4): 357–375.
  • Genevieve Noone Parsons, Sara B. Kinsman, Charles L. Bosk, Pamela Sankar, and Peter A. Ubel (2001). "Between two worlds: Medical student perceptions of humor and slang in the hospital setting". Journal of General Internal Medicine 16 (8): 544–549.
  • Coombs RH, Chopra S, Schenk DR, and Yutan E (1993). "Medical slang and its functions". Soc Sci Med. 36 (8): 987–998.
  • Christopher Peterson "Medical slang in Rio de Janeiro, Brasil". Cad Saude Publica 14 (4): 671–682.
  • "Doctor slang is a dying art". BBC News. .
  • National Lampoon Slang words that hospitals use, some are funny. .
  • Dragonqueen DOCTORS' SLANG, MEDICAL SLANG AND MEDICAL ACRONYMS. . — Medical Slang around the world
  • Online Housestaff Community features Top 5 Annoying Medical Terms

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