Shop Talk

Between 1976 and 1978, C.J. Scheiner compiled a list of pejoratives that medical personnel used to describe patients in a large New York hospital:

  • dispo (“disposition problem”): a patient admitted to the hospital with no real medical problem apart from being unable to care for himself
  • ethanolic: alcoholic
  • fruit salad: a group of stroke patients unable to care for themselves
  • gork: a mentally deficient patient
  • gun and rifle club: a trauma ward for stabbing and gunshot victims
  • International House of Pancakes: a neurology ward for patients (often stroke victims) who babble in different languages
  • pits: a medical screening area, often with a large number of insignificant maladies
  • P.O.S. (“piece of shit”): a patient who’s medically ill because of his own failure to care for himself (“most often alcoholics”). A “sub-human piece of shit” (SHPOS) is a critically ill patient who is rehabilitated and then must be readmitted after failing to follow medical instructions.
  • P.P. (“professional patient”): a frequent emergency room visitor with chronic symptoms that are never present at the time of examination
  • quack: a patient who fakes symptoms to get drugs or hospitalization
  • Saturday Night Special: a patient who has spent his money and arrives at the hospital on a weekend hoping for a meal and a place to stay
  • stage mother: an adult who coaches young patients as to their symptoms and states what tests and procedures are needed

“This study is not in any way exhaustive, and does not include many terms used possibly in various specialty areas of this particular hospital, and certainly not all the terms used in various hospitals in or outside of New York.”

(C.J. Scheiner, “Common Patient-Directed Pejoratives Used by Medical Personnel,” Maledicta 2 [Summer/Winter 1978], 67-70.)