Having spent rather more time that I’ve wanted to with the medical profession over the last couple of months, I’ve noticed the way that they use language is sometimes just a little different to the way the rest of us do.

Take the word ‘uncomfortable’. Recently we’ve replaced our mattress because, as it was several years old, it had become somewhat uncomfortable to sleep on. It wasn’t painful to sleep on the mattress, but it certainly wasn’t as cosy as it used to be. So I thought I had a pretty good handle on what ‘uncomfortable’ meant. For example, this looks pretty uncomfortable to me:


However, having recently undergone a bone marrow biopsy, I now realise that the medical profession use the word ‘uncomfortable’ in an entirely different way to, well, everyone else I’ve ever met. Whenever I’ve been told that something will be uncomfortable, what they’ve actually meant is that it will really sting while we’re doing it, and will probably remain sore for several days afterwards. I really never, ever, want to hear that something they’re about to do to me is going to hurt – even a little!

The second word I’ve been thinking about is ‘carer’. While booking a flu jab for us a couple of days ago, the surgery asked my wife if she was my carer.

Its use threw both of us off balance temporarily. While I understand why that word was used, it somehow doesn’t seem appropriate in my current condition. When I get really poorly from the chemotherapy, then yes, I may need a carer.

But at the moment, while I’m still relatively well, hearing that word used feels – how should I put this? – just a little bit uncomfortable.


Posts Tagged with…

Reader Comments

  1. D Henderson

    I completely gets what you mean about terminology..I worked in surgery myself for 6 years and there is a definite difference. The word uncomfortable is generally used to describe a kind of aching sensation as opposed to huge amounts of pain, also the word pain may generate fear and anxiety in people so they are sometimes sugaring the pill. There is also a lot to be said for how people feel pain differently, how can it possibly be the same for one person as it is for another, i understood this but noticed that not everyone is the medical profession was as understanding. I think that it’s fairly common for medical professionals to come across as a little condescending in the way they speak to people too, the assumption is usually that people don’t know and don’t need to know what is happening to them but in today’s world that just isn’t the case. I recently had a cancer scare and when i asked for a more comprehensive explanation of what was happening I was brushed off and so I found another doctor who was person centred and spoke to me like an actual person, as a consequence I’m having surgery next month because of the high risk of cancer in the future I (I wasn’t told this by the original doctor) Knowing you have some agency where medical treatment is concerned can be empowering. Good luck 🙂

    • tim


      I find the use of language fascinating – and to be absolutely fair (as the post is meant to be a little bit tongue-in-cheek), it’s not just medical practitioners that use language in this way. For example, I often suggest to people at work that their view of a particular problem is “interesting” – when I really mean “I think your opinion is wrong”.


  2. Rachael

    Language is so interesting isn’t it? I’d rather be told ‘This is going to hurt a bit.’ Because discomfort and pain are not the same! But I understand their motivations. Thinking of you and wishing you well – glad to have discovered you via twitter/archiveday!

    • tim

      Hi Rachael,

      Thank you! I enjoyed finding your blog through archiveday too.

      I find how language is used endlessly fascinating, having been introduced to the use of discourse analysis as part of my OU psychology degree. Jonathan Potter and Marjorie Wetherell have a lot to be thanked for / blamed for depending on your perspective!

Your thoughts?