The language of medicine: Words as servants and scoundrels

Eamonn M.M. Quigley, Fergus Shanahan

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Progress in complex disorders requires clear thinking facilitated by clear language. Clinicians and scientists occasionally become captive to inaccurate language or meaningless terminology and this generates lazy thinking and impedes progress. Has this happened in the case of the functional gastrointestinal disorders (FGIDs), in general, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), in particular? FGIDs and, especially IBS, are common illnesses and an important burden on healthcare resources but, in general, have suffered from a lack of progress in the development of safe and effective treatment. Among FGIDs, IBS may be the best defined but significant lapses of accuracy in terminology persist. Among other FGIDs, the situation is more serious; imprecision and lack of consistency in terminology continue to mar progress. This article reviews the chequered history of terminology in this area and concludes that removing the obfuscation generated by poor usage of language should be the first step towards understanding the pathogenesis and improving the management of these, and similar, disorders.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)131-135
Number of pages5
JournalClinical Medicine, Journal of the Royal College of Physicians of London
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2009


  • Functional dyspepsia
  • Functional gastrointestinal disorders
  • Inflammation
  • Irritable bowel syndrome

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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