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Medical slang glossary

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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.”[1] 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)[1].

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 HTTP 404 error "Not Found". [2]
  • Agnostication - A substitute for prognostication. Term used to the describe the usually vain attempt to answer the question: "How long have I got, doc?" [2]
  • Appy - a person's appendix or a patient with appendicitis [3]
  • Ash cash - UK peculiarity of house officers obtaining payment for signing cremation forms[4]
  • Baby Catcher - an obstetrician [3]
  • Bagging - manually helping a patient breathe using an Ambu bag attached to a mask that covers the face [3]
  • Bash cash - UK peculiarity of Registrars obtaining payment for medical reports on patients who have allegedly been assaulted[5]
  • Blamestorming - Apportionment of blame after the wrong leg or kidney is removed or some other particularly egregious foul-up. [2]
  • Blood Suckers/Leeches/Vampires - those who take blood samples, such as laboratory technicians and Phlebotomists [3]
  • Bounceback - a patient who returns to the emergency department with the same complaints shortly after being released [3]
  • Bury the Hatchet - accidentally leaving a surgical instrument inside a patient [3]
  • CNS-QNS - Central Nervous System - Quantity Not Sufficient. [1]
  • Code Brown - a faecal incontinence emergency. Often used by nurses and medical technicians requesting help cleaning up an unexpected bowel movement. [2] [3]
  • Code Yellow - a patient who has lost control of his or her bladder [3]
  • CTD - "Circling The Drain" [2] [6] [1] 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. [1]
  • Departure lounge - geriatric ward [1]
  • DIC - Death Is Coming, Death In Cage - used by veterinarians describing the complications of Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation
  • Digging for Worms - varicose vein surgery [1]
  • Disco biscuits - refers to the nightclub drug ecstasy. Usage: "The man in cubicle three looks like he's taken one too many disco biscuit". [2] Also means the drug quaaludes.
  • Doc in a Box - a small health-care center, usually with high staff turnover [3]
  • 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[7]
  • FLK - Funny Looking Kid - used to indicate a child (usually a newborn) whose habitus or overall appearance, while normal in gross anatomy, suggests a need further medical investigation for congenital and genetic anomalies.[2][1] "Funny", in this sense, means strange or unusual, not laughable.
  • Foley - a catheter used to drain the bladder of urine [3]
  • Freud Squad - the psychiatry department [3] [1]
  • FTD - Fixin' to Die [8]
  • Gas Passer - an anesthesiologist (also Gasser, Gas Man or Gaswallah) [3] [1]
  • 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.[9]
  • GLM - good looking mum [6] [1]
  • GPO - "Good for Parts Only [2] [6] [1]
  • GROLIES - Guardian Reader Of Low Intelligence in Ethnic Skirt. [1]
  • Handbag positive - confused patient (usually elderly lady) lying on hospital bed clutching handbag [1]
  • 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. [2]
  • LOBNH - ("Lights On But Nobody Home) or the impressively bogus [2] [1]
  • M & Ms - mortality and morbidity conferences where doctors and other health-care professionals discuss mistakes and patient deaths [3]
  • NAD - Not Actually Done[5]
  • NFN - "Normal For Norfolk", (a rural English county stereotypically associated with inbreeding.) [2] [1]
  • 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. [2] [3]
  • Oligoneuronal meaning someone who is thick (not smart). [2]
  • PAFO - "Pissed And Fell Over" [2] [1]
  • PFO - see PAFO [1]
  • 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. [2] [1]
  • Q-sign - see O-Sign [2] [3]
  • Rear Admiral - a proctologist [3]
  • Rheumaholiday - rheumatology (considered by hard-pressed juniors to be a less busy department) [1]
  • Rule of Five - means that if more than five of the patient's orifices are obscured by tubing, he has no chance of survival. [2]
  • Slasher - surgeon [1]
  • Shotgunning - ordering a wide variety of tests in the hope that one will show what's wrong with a patient [3]
  • 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. [2]
  • TEETH - tried everything else, try homeopathy.[6] [1]
  • Tox Screen - testing the blood for the level and type of drugs in a patient's system [3]
  • TTFO - Told To Fuck Off. [1]
  • TTR - Tea Time Review [1]
  • UBI - "Unexplained Beer Injury" [2] [6] [3] [1]
  • Woolworth's Test - Anaesthetic term (if you can imagine patient shopping in Woolies, it's safe to give a general anaesthetic) [1]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z "Doctor slang is a dying art". BBC. 18 August 2003. Retrieved on 5 February 2008. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s "404 moment - new medical slang". Agence France-Presse. 21 December 2007. Retrieved on 5 February 2008. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s Howstuffworks "Decoding 28 Medical Slang Terms"
  4. ^ Adam, Kate (1998). "Student soapbox: Doctors should care, not cash in". Retrieved on 2008-04-14. 
  5. ^ a b Fox, Adam; Cahill, Pauline; Fertleman, Michael (2002). "Medical slang". Retrieved on 2008-04-14. 
  6. ^ a b c d e Doctors deny insulting patients with slang
  7. ^ Transwiki:Donorcycle
  8. ^ "The Free Dictionary". Retrieved on 2008-03-12. 
  9. ^ Michael Quinion (2001-09-15). "Gomer". World Wide Words. 

Further reading

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Published - February 2009

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