Author Topic: It’s terribly insensitive, obtuse to say that seeing a doctor is pleasurable  (Read 14663 times)

Joe Carillo

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Two weeks ago, I asked for reactions from Forum members to the following notice in the hallway of a multiservice medical clinic in a major Metro Manila mall:

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For a more pleasurable experience, please ensure you are registered with the nurse station prior to doctors consultation.

As I said in my posting, I was aghast at its insensitivity and obtuseness. I couldn’t imagine that such bad English could come from (or be tolerated by) medical doctors and health-care professionals who, without any doubt, are among the most educated and English-proficient people in this planet.

The grammar of that notice is faulty to begin with— “nurse station” should be “nurses’ station” and “prior to doctors consultation” should be “before consulting a doctor” or, more plainly, “before seeing a doctor.” The semantics and logic of the notice are terribly flawed—there’s a troubling disconnect between the act of prior “registration” and having “a more pleasurable experience” as a result. And its language register is way off normal—sensible people simply don’t talk like that in the real world.

I therefore decided to invite Forum members and guests to share their thoughts about the English of that notice and to improve it.

The first to respond to my invitation is Miss Mae, who made this posting last March 18, 2013:

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How about this?

Register first to see a doctor

After all, the notice was already posted in the hallway of the clinic. Where else should patients register but in the nurse’s station?

Hmmm… “Register first to see a doctor” is definitely an improvement over the original, but I think it has oversimplified the message to the extent of losing its intended point. That point is, of course, the advantage to the patient of registering before seeing a doctor.

Then, on March 19, 2013, I received this e-mailed response from Mr. Juanito T. Fuerte, a Forum guest and FilAm balikbayan from Virginia in the U.S.A. who describes himself as “temporarily back in the country”:

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Joe, I think I understand why you’re bothered by that sentence, “For a more pleasurable experience, please ensure you are registered with the nurse station prior to doctors consultation.” But, Joe, what, in the name of sanity, are you complaining about? C’mon, man!  Who wouldn’t want to have a “pleasurable experience”! And in a doctor’s office at that?
 
Let’s face it, Joe. You’re sick and not feeling well, which is why you went to see a doctor, right?  Then a big, bold sign tells you, more or less, that all you have to do is “register with the nurse station” (repeat, “nurse station,” which probably should be “nurses station”) and voila! You can now have a “pleasurable experience”! Man, if anything can make a person well in an instant, those magic words surely can! 

Ooh! La, la! That’s very ingenious of that doctor to come up with those very welcoming words!
 
Okay, Joe, so I’m a “dirty, old man,” and I apologize for getting carried away... Seriously now, how about something like this one?

For timely processing of patients, please see the receptionist first

You may even add “at the nurses station.” But I wouldn’t bother to add “prior to doctor consultation” because it’s obvious that patients are there for that reason. (One might miss out on having a “pleasurable
experience,” but I think this will pass for something an English language guru like you would prefer to read).

Juanito’s comments are well taken, but I think this suggested rewrite of his, “For timely processing of patients, please see the receptionist first,” is decidedly dangerous! Patients go to see a doctor to be treated for their ailment, not to be “processed” in the same way as raw meat to sausage. There certainly will be no pleasure in that, I assure you!

Then, on March 25, 2013, I received this e-mailed feedback from Isabel E. in Hong Kong:

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Regarding this medical office notice:
For a more pleasurable experience, please ensure you are registered with the nurse station prior to doctors consultation.
 
Joe—how weird! Did that clinic think patients were dumb enough to expect pleasure from seeing the quack? Did you get many folks correcting it? Here are my versions:
 
Direct & to the point:
IF YOU DON’T REGISTER, YOU WON’T GET TO SEE THE DOCTOR!
 
Seriously:
Registration at nurses’ station required before doctor’s consultation
 
Or:
For quicker, efficient service, kindly register with the nurse & wait your turn to see the doctor.

Isabel’s three suggested versions sound much closer to how that problematic notice should be phrased and expressed, but I think they still don’t have the semantic precision required for that message. So, tossing around for a better, more succinct version, I read aloud to my wife Elean all of the above suggested versions and asked her what she thought.

“I think all those versions including the original notice have missed the point,” she said, “and that point is why it’s important for patients to register first before seeing a doctor. It’s definitely not for pleasure’s sake, to be sure. It is to avoid the inconvenience of being rebuffed when they go directly to the doctor without queuing up like all patients should.”

She then suggested the following version of that notice:

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To avoid any inconvenience, please register at the nurses’ station first before seeing your doctor.

That, I think, hits the nail right on the head!

Miss Mae

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I agree! So, it's "wife's know best" now? How about for women also?

Mwita Chacha

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Sir, what makes you reckon doctors are among the most English-proficient people? I'm a medical student, and I don't remember attending a lecture without catching a professor failing to deliver his or her message by virtue of poor English. And this applies equally to both local and imported (American) lecturers. So if asked for an opinion, I will quickly respond that doctors are among the leading less-knowledgeable people in English. There is no argument, of course, that to become a doctor you've to go through a relatively lengthy, sometimes demanding course; however, that doesn't necessarily guarantee becoming at home with English.

carmelyne

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Isn't it a bit redundant to say first before the word before?

To avoid any inconvenience, please register at the nurses’ station first before seeing your doctor.

I would prefer:

To avoid any inconvenience, please register at the nurses’ station before seeing your doctor.

Joe Carillo

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Is it a bit redundant to use the adverb “first” in the following sentence?

“To avoid any inconvenience, please register at the nurses’ station first before seeing your doctor.”

From a purely grammatical standpoint, it would seem so, for that sentence could very well go without “first”:

“To avoid any inconvenience, please register at the nurses’ station before seeing your doctor.”

When “first” is knocked off from that sentence, however, it loses the emphasis and sense of immediacy provided to the statement by that word. That word may look grammatically redundant when that statement is in written form, but semantically, it serves to give force and emotional context to the verb phrase “register at the nurses’ station.” It’s an example of what’s loosely called in grammar as an intensifier, a semantically vacuous filler that gives force or adds to the expressiveness of an idea instead of modifying or quantifying it. In that sentence, I would think that the intensifier “first” is semantically in the same league as the adverbs “right before” and “shortly before,” but a less demanding as well as more polite action cue than these two. (Other examples of intensifiers are “up” in the sentence “She cluttered up his room with thingamajigs” and “pretty” in “He’s pretty preoccupied right now.” Those words are not absolutely necessary, but see what’s lost when we knock them off from the sentence: “She cluttered his room with thingamajigs.” “He’s preoccupied right now.”)

In this context, I don’t think the adverb “first” is in any way redundant in the sentence in question.
« Last Edit: April 05, 2013, 11:47:15 AM by Joe Carillo »

giggi

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I propose:

"Please register at the nurses' station before consultation."

 I am of the opinion that the word "pleasurable" is absolutely unnecessary in the notice.  I also believe that in notices of this sort, brevity should be a key word to keep in mind.

Joe Carillo

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Great! I like the way you made the notice much more concise--from 15 words to eight words, or by almost 47%. I just have one little reservation about your use of the word "consultation," though. It makes the notice sound somewhat officious and standoffish. I think it would sound more natural if a less imposing word or phrase is used, like, say, "consulting a doctor" or "seeing a doctor." The notice would then read as follows:

"Please register at the nurses' station before consulting a doctor."

or:

"Please register at the nurses' station before seeing a doctor."

What do you think?

Mwita Chacha

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It's tough to tell, Sir, why it has taken me this long to realize there's something fatally erroneous in ''my wife Elean.'' Of course, if the objective was signal to Forum members that you're married to more than one wife, I apologize for being too searching. But if my assumption is correct that you're a monogamist, I don't want to imagine how angrily your supposedly sole better half might react after coming across the phrase in question. She'll rightly infer you're practicing polygamism secretly.

Joe Carillo

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I can appreciate your long perplexity over the form “my wife Elean,” and you need not apologize for thinking that “there’s something fatally erroneous” about that form. Whether I’m a monogamist or a polygamist, though, that form is grammatically correct and semantically aboveboard. My wife Elean knows the usage quite well, so I must assure you that she never reacts violently each time I use that form in my Forum postings and other writings. But I do realize that like you, many nonnative speakers of English have been taught to think that the noun “Elean” could only be an appositive to the noun phrase “my wife,” in which case “Elean” should be set off by a pair of commas in the composite form, as in this sentence: “I read aloud to my wife, Elean, all of the suggested versions.” When that pair of commas is supplied to set off “Elean,” it’s supposed to signal that the first-person speaker has only one wife or that he’s a monogamist; without those commas, that he has one or more wives aside from “Elean,” making him a polygamist. These, however, are fanciful and unwarranted conclusions that arise from the wrong idea that “Elean” in “my wife Elean” could only be an appositive and nothing else.

At this point, think of “my wife Elean” as a noun phrase in its own right, in much the same way as “the game roulette” is a distinctive noun phrase in the sentence “The game roulette is a highly addictive form of gambling.” When you do that, your reflexive conclusion that “Elean” is an appositive to “my wife” will collapse like a stack of cards. Indeed, in the noun phrase “my wife Elean,” the noun “Elean” is much more logically and readily viewed as a restrictive modifier of the noun phrase “my wife,” in which case there’s absolutely no need for a pair of commas to set it off from that noun phrase. (In the same way, we don’t write “The game, roulette, is a highly addictive form of gambling,” for those commas would make “roulette” a nonrestrictive modifier that can very well be knocked off from that sentence.) 
 
To clarify this often misunderstood and misapplied usage, I discussed appositive phrases of the restrictive type (those that don’t need to be set off by commas) in an essay that I posted in the Forum on September 4, 2010, “The parenthesis and its uses: the appositive phrase.” That essay is the second of a three-part series, “A unified approach to the proper use of punctuation in English.” I suggest you read the entire series for a much better grasp of the grammar and structure of appositives and other forms of modifiers.

RELATED READINGS:
Parenthesis by comma

The appositive phrase

Parenthesis by dashes and parenthesis by parentheses