Physicians speaking at medical conferences routinely aim to sound authoritative and cite the evidence for their recommendations. So I was pleasantly surprised recently when a candid dermatologist who was discussing the dosing of some newer medications for psoriasis repeatedly said that his advice was based on SWAG — a scientific wild-assed guess.
What a great term! That’s how much of medicine operates, out of necessity. When the evidence isn’t there for evidence-based medicine, physicians have to take their best guess about what to do, informed by experience and whatever limited science is available.
Among the thousands of funny medical acronyms, phrases and made-up words, SWAG is a beaut. There are lots of others — what’s your favorite?
“Incindentaloma” is a good one — something a doctor finds incidentally (which may or may not be important) while examining the patient for a wholly different reason. And even non-medical people can appreciate the truism, “Things always look clearer through the retrospectoscope,” an after-the-fact longing for a do-over.
One of my colleagues is fond of the acronym FDGB (for “fall down, go boom”), which could describe the cause of many an ouchy. Another colleague likes BSX4. No, that’s not the latest computer game, but a finding of “bowel sounds in all four quadrants.” Pediatricians may not admit it, but physicians have been known to describe some children in a non-judgmental way as FLKs (funny looking kids), a benign condition that’s often outgrown.
And there’s oh, so much more. Feast your eyes on the Wikipedia page for medical slang, or on medicalabbreviations.com or medilexicon.com. Some of what you’ll find there is outdated, though. Doctors in general are more respectful in their slang than they used to be, my physician-sources tell me.
Don’t even get me started on the contortions that some medical researchers perform to try and get a catchy acronym for their study. Take a look at some clinical trial acronyms and you’ll see what I mean. Was it really necessary to name a study “BiodivYsio batimastat SV stent versus balloon angioplasty for the reduction of restenosis in small coronary arteries”? Maybe. But holy smokes, BATMAN! Who came up with that acronym?
–Sherry Boschert (On Twitter @SherryBoschert)