“A rose by any other name…”

Being a sociologist, working in a hospital full of doctors, nurses and medical scientists, throws up a number of interesting challenges.  Perhaps the first and most noticeable one was encountering a bewildering array of medical acronyms and jargon.  On a related note, some words no longer have the same meaning, though I tend to find these more amusing, than a ‘challenge’.

While for me, the term ‘artefact’ conjures up notions of irreplaceable antiquities (and Indiana Jones); in my team, it refers to erroneous anomalies that can be seen in MRI images that don’t actually reflect anything in the patient’s body [1].  ‘Tarquin’ is referred to so often you would think that he’s a member of the team, when in fact ‘he’s’ a software for spectroscopy analysis.

‘Consent’ has changed from something you get to something you do – “Have you consent-ed the patient?”  ‘Phantoms’ and ‘spectra’ are constant companions here, though are not in the least bit supernatural.  A ‘voxel’ is no longer a reasonably-priced car but a way to ‘map out’ a brain 3-dimensionally for imaging.  And don’t even get me started on what they mean by ‘Sonic the Hedgehog‘!

Most amusingly for me, I often hear colleagues saying ‘NVivo’ and think they’re talking about software I use in qualitative analysis, when actually they’re saying ‘in vivo’ – meaning something has been tested or done to a patient rather than a sample.

However, it is not just that the meaning of words depends upon context [2], it is that words themselves have no inherent meaning.  It was Saussure who first argued that there is no necessary connection between the word and its meaning i.e. there’s nothing about paper which causes it to be called paper, and paper would still be the same if it were called something else – which made a significant contribution to the developing field of semiotics / semiology [3].  This might seem self-evident now but was pretty radical thinking at the time.

Though I suppose it could be argued that the case for this was first made centuries before this, when the Great Bard wrote, ‘a rose by any other name would smell as sweet’.  Though I somehow doubt that this was exactly what he had in mind…

Natalie Tyldesley-Marshall

Edited by Farina Kokab

[1] Prasad, J. (2005) ‘Making images/making bodies: Visibilizing and disciplining through the magnetic resonance imaging’, Science, Technology & Human Values, 30 (2), pp.291-316. http://www.jstor.org/stable/1558038

[2] Gennari et al. (2007) ‘Context-dependent interpretation of words: Evidence for interactive neural processes’, NeuroImage, 35 (3), pp.1278-1286. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2007.01.015

[3] Wikipedia. (2016) Ferdinand de Saussurehttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ferdinand_de_Saussure



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