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SHREWSBURY, Massachusetts – Has it ever struck you that as we’ve aged, the advertisements on TV have gravitated more and more to the prevention and cure of all kinds of ailments. Not only that but due to those commercials we’ve all become medical experts, using technical and esoteric words for things that we’ve always known about but called by common everyday names. Today we all sound like doctors and though I find the whole thing amusing, even I have fallen victim to the practice.
One of the things you currently always hear talked about is fibrillation of the heart which sounds very scary and perhaps it is, but in the old days it was simply known to us laymen as an irregular heartbeat which anyone could easily understand. Why make it sound so mysterious? Another one of these abstruse terms is “metastasize” which means the spread of a malignant tumor to other sites in the body. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not making fun of that very serious condition but only wondering why everyone can’t simply say that the cancer has spread. It’s bad enough that the illness has worsened, why make it so difficult to understand what’s going on?
Another ailment often mentioned by the drug companies in their ads is COPD, also known as emphysema, which we usually associate with having been caused by smoking. When I was young it was called wheezing or at best chronic bronchitis, something that everyone from 3 to 93 could comprehend. When or why it was changed to Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease is beyond my comprehension but it now seems to be the label of preference and to me it’s just plain dumb.
There’s lots more, and one of my favorites is Restless Leg Syndrome, an overwhelming and irresistible urge to move the legs. Again when I was young it was called shpilkes, a Yiddish term that simply meant nervous energy, restlessness, a state of impatience or agitation. Why wasn’t that good enough since it exactly described how the condition manifested itself. Does the word “Syndrome” give it more legitimacy? Does it make the malady seem that much more serious and therefore worthy of treatment? Perhaps it does.
Adding to the list of ridiculous or comical cognomens is erectile dysfunction, something that always existed but used to be known merely as an inability to get it up. I remember one time when a woman of our acquaintance referred to her husband as “Mr. Softee” and that was as descriptive and good a name as any, much better than the new designation in new-speak, though having a Latin-sounding and therefore more legitimately medical ring to it.
I wonder what devious designations the pharmaceutical industry has in store for us, possibly even for such mundane conditions as headaches or flat feet. ICDS, Inter-Cranial Distress Syndrome has a critical enough sound to it to be of serious consideration as does IMC, Insipid Metatarsal Compression. Aspirin may be good enough for normal discomforts but ICDS or IMC would surely require stronger drugs that could only be obtained by prescription. And if ICDS ever metastasized into AAC, Acute Abdominal Contractions, an even more potent remedy would be required. But don’t forget, always ask your doctor if this medication is right for you