“Poor Historian”? How the Geriatrics Profanisaurus exposes the dark side of Jargon.

Roger Mellie, "Man on the Telly".  Author of Roger's Profanisaurus
Roger Mellie, “Man on the Telly”.
Author of Roger’s Profanisaurus

What do you get when you combine; Geriatric Medicine, Profanity and a Thesaurus?

Obviously, it’s the bleedin excellent ‘Geriatrics Profanisaurus’, written by Professor David Oliver on the British Geriatrics Society blog. Well worth reading (including the comments).

David is also a Visiting Fellow at the Kings Fund and has written some impressive material for them about topics like making health and care services work better for an ageing population (also worth reading).

If you are wondering about the Roger Mellie picture, well, he’s the fictitious editor of ‘Rogers Profanisaurus’. To quote the fly sheet, “the definitive reference volume of English obscenities”. Not something you should be reading at work, so don’t open the link!

The point is that Roger’s Profanisaurus is a compendium of really bad words and phrases. Rude and offensive stuff that shouldn’t be used in the workplace (I hope you agree – I know you’ve had a quick look). The principle of Roger’s Profanisaurus, a collection of ‘words not suitable for work’, is the same as the Geriatrics Profanisaurus, but the content is rather different, which I will explain later (I told you not to look at Roger’s).

What has a Thesaurus/Profanisaurus got to do with Jargon? The purpose of a Thesaurus is to find the words which best allow you to describe a situation or idea. A typical Thesaurus will have words with similar meanings grouped together so that you can identify something that helps people understand more easily or has greater impact.

My School Thesaurus No connection with Roger's Profanisaurus
My School Thesaurus
No connection with Roger’s Profanisaurus

The most well known of the thesauri, is Roget’s Thesaurus, published by Dr Peter Mark Roget in 1852. Interestingly Roger’s Profanisaurus does not appear on the list of thesauri referenced in the wikipedia article, funny that.

The idea of being able to use words that have a different meaning did get me thinking about Jargon again.

A while back I wrote a number of posts about Jargon. The roots of the word come from the Old French ‘gargun’ to describe ‘the cheeping of birds’ and ‘confused and unintelligible speech’ in 14th Century English. The modern day definition of Jargon talks about ‘special words or expressions used by a profession or group that are difficult for others to understand’.

There are some very positive reasons for using jargon. Within a specific technical community it can help to communicate more clearly, efficiently and effectively. It can even help to build relationships within that community by creating a sense of being exclusive through having your own special language.

For me, the link between using Jargon and a Thesaurus sits here; using different words that have the same meaning.

However, using these different words is not always done for the purpose of improving understanding that Roget intended; Jargon isn’t always good. Likewise, I’d also suggest that reaching for the Thesaurus isn’t always good either. Sometimes people use ‘interesting’ and ‘alternative’ words to impress, rather than the plain and straightforward which would help with understanding. A surfeit of hyperbole for example (see what I did there). This is where I think David Oliver’s Geriatric Profanisaurus is inspired.


The Geriatric Profanisaurus and the dark side of Jargon. What the Geriatric Profanisaurus does is expose phrases that are more than just technical jargon. These are phrases that have an underlying meaning of disrespect for the people that are being referred to, or a lack care and effort. It is worth reading the post to get a sense of what this means, for example:

  • “Poor Historian….is shorthand for I couldn’t be bothered to find out anything about this delirious patient”
  • “The stroke in D4….this is a person…. someones mother, father or spouse….. someone with a life history…… reducing them to a number is profoundly disrespectful”
  • “The Elderly…..a word abhorrent to people who are older and the other side of 60… the use of language develops attitudes….. (and gives) the opportunity to discriminate and deny rights”

The title of the Geriatrics Profanisaurus post suggest that these are words and phrases that should be banned. I’m with David Oliver on this. Just like Roger’s Profanisaurus words and phrases that are NSFW, Not Suitable for Work.

These words and phrases aren’t just jargon. There is a darker more pernicious* element to them, that shouldn’t be accepted and should be challenged. The Geriatrics Profanisaurus is an effective way of getting them out in the open. I wonder if there should be a Profanisaurus for lots of other areas of activity, identifying these phrase and words for what they really are?

So, what’s the PONT?

  1. Jargon is useful and can help with understanding and communication within specific technical communities.
  2. Choosing alternative words from a Thesaurus can help explain an idea or improve understanding.
  3. If either is used to exclude, confuse, cover up a lack or concern or show disrespect, they should be exposed in a Profanisaurus.

*pernicious – who spotted I’ve been using my Thesaurus?


Roger Mellie http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Roger_mellie_man_on_the_telly.png 

Jargon: via Google search


About WhatsthePONT

I'm from Old South Wales and I'm interested almost everything. Narrowing it down a bit: cooperatives, social enterprises, decent public services, complexity science, The Cynefin Framework, behavioural science and a sustainable future. In 2018/19 I completed a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship, looking at big cooperative enterprises and social businesses in NE Spain and the USA. You can find out more here: https://whatsthepont.com/churchill-fellowship/

3 Responses

  1. Less jargon, more understanding… Ann Collis from Barod has made a video for us about the easy listening’ whispered plain English style process they have developed. Anne explaining it at the last meetup made one speaker rewrite his presentation on the spot, sometimes people aren’t aware of how much jargon they are using until its highlighted.

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