Intended for healthcare professionals

Fillers Words


BMJ 1998; 317 doi: (Published 31 October 1998) Cite this as: BMJ 1998;317:1242
  1. Irvine Loudon, medical historian
  1. Wantage, Oxfordshire

    Nosocomial, as in nosocomial infections, seems to have been around for a long time, but I sense that its usage is increasing, possibly as a result of the problem of antibiotic resistance. When I first saw it some years ago, although I suspected a common origin with nosology (which the uninitiated quite reasonably assume to be the missing middle word from oto-laryngology) I had no idea what it meant. Having looked it up, Dorland's American Illustrated Medical Dictionary (21st edition) says that it is derived from two Greek words meaning diseaseand to take care of, and the Oxford English Dictionary (the big one, not the concise) tells me it is derived from an obsolete French word nosocome meaning hospital, although it does not appear at all in even the largest of modern French-English dictionaries. I am still uncertain about how it is pronounced; is the third “o” long or short? Whatever the pronunciation, however, as far as I can discover nosocomial infection means nothing more nor less than hospital infection. 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 nosocomialshould be publicly executed and hospital put in its place. Any objections?


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