Author Topic: When immodest medical jargon is used as a slogan  (Read 6071 times)

Joe Carillo

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When immodest medical jargon is used as a slogan
« on: April 10, 2024, 12:28:16 PM »
Many years back, while I was waiting for the traffic light to turn green on Ortigas Avenue corner EDSA in Metro Manila, my wife Leonor nudged me and pointed to an undulating phrase and image painted prominently on the side of a brand-new hospital ambulance that had stopped beside our car. The phrase was this hospital motto: “Patient on Center Stage, Service of Greater Worth.”

Leonor said with a scowl: “Oh that motto not only confuses me but gives me the creeps! If I were a patient in a hospital I wouldn’t want to be placed on center stage. I’d rather that they put me in a nice private room where only the doctors and nurses can efficiently but discreetly attend to me until I got well.”

Medical professionals at work in a modern hospital operating theater

“Dear, I think you misunderstood the phrase,” I said. “It’s using the words ‘Patient on Center Stage’ figuratively. It’s actually saying that when you are admitted into that hospital, you’ll become the focal point of its attention. They’ll treat you like a prima donna—the star of the show.”

“But that’s precisely what’s wrong with that phrase, Honey,” she said. “It considers being hospitalized more like showbiz than health care, and I must tell you that such a view evokes many unpleasant images in my mind.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, that phrase gives me the feeling that in that hospital, they’d put patients on conspicuous display as a matter of procedure. Remember that creepy old operating theater in that London hospital—if I remember right it was in that Frankenstein movie that had Robert De Niro in the monster’s role—where doctors did major surgery on patients while dozens of medical students and other observers watched from a winding observation gallery high above the operating table? That’s definitely not my idea of excellent hospital service!”

“Now I see your point,” I said. “It’s a semantic problem. The motto’s ‘center stage’ metaphor is giving you negative imagery. That’s what happens when highly figurative language is used in supposedly commonsense statements, and the problem gets worse when such language is mixed with fuzzy jargon or business-speak. But you know, some pretesting through focus-group interviews could have caught that motto’s problem with its language.”

“That’s right—and pretesting could have also caught the problem with the second phrase. You see, it’s so difficult to understand what ‘Service of Greater Worth’ means. Are they saying that the services of that hospital actually should be priced higher than those of other hospitals? But then that’s not something worth crowing about from a marketing standpoint, is it? Also, I always thought that in English, when using comparatives like ‘greater,’ you need to identify the thing you are comparing something with. That second phrase doesn’t do that.”

“You’re right, and that makes its use of the comparative grammatically wrong. But I can see now that the phrase has an even bigger problem: it uses the word ‘worth’ very loosely. Of course, what the motto is trying to convey is that this hospital offers ‘better service’ than other hospitals, but this message gets garbled because the phrase ‘greater worth’ is wrongly used to mean ‘of greater value,’ when in fact those two mean entirely different things.”

“So how would that motto go if you were to rephrase it?”

“Frankly, dear, I don’t know how! Coming up with a good motto or slogan isn’t easy. It’s a creative act, actually an art form that needs not only good sense but also a great eye and ear for wordplay. You just know that a slogan is great or good or bad when you read or hear it for the first time. Listen to these slogans: ‘We’ve got it all for you!’ (of that big department store chain), ‘Where beautiful skin happens’ (of that facial care center), ‘Your success is our business’ (of that local bank), and ‘Delighting you always’ (of that foreign maker of electronic cameras and computer printers). Each of them uses felicitous wordplay to express a clear and persuasive idea. And they all ring true and convincing, giving us no reason at all to quibble over their words or to debate in our minds whether what they are saying is true or not.”

“I agree with you that those slogans are well-crafted and pleasing to the ears. Now why don’t you make an improved version of that hospital’s motto along the same lines?”

“I can’t, my dear, and that’s precisely my point. Making good mottoes or slogans isn’t something that just anybody can do on short notice, and it certainly shouldn’t be assigned to professionals whose minds are so steeped in business or medical jargon that they no longer find it comfortable to think in plain and simple English. Mottoes and slogans meant for the world at large are best written by professional wordsmiths—people who can create extraordinarily expressive, convincing, and memorable messages in just a few words.”

“Well,” Leonor sighed, “I hope that hospital gets one such slogan professional very soon to fix its airy motto.” (2005)

Read this essay and listen to its voice recording in The Manila Times:
When immodest medical jargon is used as a slogan

(Next: The world in 854 words)        April 11, 2024                                                                                              

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« Last Edit: April 13, 2024, 04:58:21 PM by Joe Carillo »