Harmful Homonyms: Prostate vs. Prostrate and Other Words You Don’t Want to Mix Up

Sacramento, CA – It’s a well-known fact that the English language is confusing, perhaps even more mind-altering than a BUN of 120. Homonyms contribute greatly to this, especially in a world where we communicate solely via text messages and Twitter. Adding to the complexity is the fact that medical professionals use funny-sounding, confusing words on a daily basis. White Coat Weekly wanted to provide a few tips on some common errors.

For example, take the following sentence:

That patient’s colon smelled pretty good!

Karen, age 42, text message to co-worker

Now, does something seem abnormal to you here? If not, carry on, but you may want to watch out for pink eye. For the rest of us, this simple error has potential to be devastating. Imagine telling your mother-in-law that her son’s COLON smells amazing.

Or this sentence, perhaps:

I have this perineal rash that just won’t go away. I swear it’s going to last forever!

David, 25 year old medical student, texting his soon-to-be ex-girlfriend

Poor David here just learned about the perineum in gross anatomy and accidentally confused it with the word perennial. He was simply trying to state that his rash was seemingly eternal, but now his girlfriend thinks he has The Clap. (Note: It is possible that David has a perennial perineal rash, but we are giving him the benefit of the doubt here.)

The consequences of these errors could even be dangerous:

Can you go do the biopsies (pleural)?

Dr. Graham, text message to junior resident

Dr. Graham simply wanted a couple of skin biopsies, but his use of ‘pleural’ instead of ‘plural’ may result in poor Mrs. Jones getting a 14-gauge to the breathers.

And last but not least:

Hey, the patient in room 16 is really sore. He thinks a prostate massage may help.

John, age 35, text to medical assistant taking care of room 16

Now this mistake could be damn near fatal. John meant to say that the patient was lying prone (prostrate) and a simple back massage may do the trick. Instead, well… let’s just say we may need to page environmental services to room 16 real soon.

Leave a Reply