Nosocomial...an Ugly, Affected, and Daft Term?

Nosocomial is an excellent example of a fancy medical term for something very simple.

Nosocomial is the offspring of two Greek words: "nosus", disease + "komeion", to take care of, so nosocomial should logically apply to any disease contracted by a patient while under medical care.

But nosocomial doesn't. It has been whittled down over the years and now just refers to hospitals. It is synonymous with hospital-acquired.

If someone in a hospital slips and breaks their hip, could that be a nosocomial fracture of the femur? No way. The only things that are nosocomial these days seem to be infections. Nosocomial infections are ones that have been caught in a hospital.

Since antibiotics have come into common usage, bacteria that are resistant to them have also become common, especially in hospitals, so there are now lots of nosocomial infections.

Irvine Loudon, a medical historian, has taken notice of nosocomial in the British Medical Journal (BMJ 1998;317:1242), writing: "Since nosocomial is an ugly, affected, and, to many, an obscure term, which adds nothing to the clarity, precision, or attractiveness of medical discourse or writing, to use it is as daft as using epistaxis for a nosebleed. In support of plain English I suggest that nosocomial should be publicly executed and hospital put in its place. Any objections?"

If you don't like terms that may be ugly, affected, or daft, just don't look at the MedicineNet Medical Dictionary, www.MedTerms.com.


Last Editorial Review: 10/28/2002



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