Article Date: 1/1/2004

lessons learned
Keep It Simple
Cut the fat in your communications.
By Jack Runniger, O.D.

A state police officer stopped a little old lady driver for going only 25 miles per hour on an interstate highway.

"Ma'am," said the trooper, "there is a 40 mile-per-hour minimum speed limit on this highway. Why are you going so slow?"

"The signs say the speed limit is 25," she replied.

"No, Ma'am. That's not the speed limit. That's the route number, Route 25. Incidentally, why do the other ladies in your car appear to be in shock?"

"I don't know. Unless it's because we just came off Route 119."


They said what?!

As that story illustrates, folks don't always understand things. You may remember that last month's column dealt with the distressing tendency nowadays to use pompous and/or pretentious language in communication and how this leads to not getting across an understandable message. For additional proof, we need look no further than people being interviewed by the news media. For example:

► On a news report, a fire department spokesperson said they had trouble investigating a plane crash because of the "nonpresence of any particular illumination." Seems like it would've been much easier and clearer to say, "It was too dark."

► When the police are interviewed about a robbery, why don't they ever say, "We caught the sucker who did it"? Instead, they almost always say, "The alleged perpetrator has been apprehended."

► My all-time favorite was a quote in our local newspaper last year. A severed human head had been found in a Tennessee lake. The sheriff investigating the case was quoted as saying, "There is a strong probability that foul play is involved in this case."

Probability?!! Perhaps they hadn't completely ruled out the possibility that the man's razor had slipped while he was shaving?

Padding our words

I think that we've all slipped into the habit of using fatter words. The following are only some of those words, perhaps used in a subconscious attempt to convey a more intellectual image, along with their simpler alternatives:

► Facilitate instead of ease

► Utilize instead of use

► Implement instead of begin

Strangely, there is an opposite trend of taking longer words and making "cutesy" contractions of them. For example, "It was one of his very faves (for favorites)," and "It was an absolutely fab (for fabulous) affair." I find that this idiotic practice gives me a pain in the pos (for posterior).

Idiotically speaking, that is

And if we use the word "idiopathic" in communicating with patients, could it convey the meaning, "The doctor's an idiot and thinks the patient is pathetic?"

In building good patient rapport, it's important not to be pompous or pretentious. Someone told me about a friend whose husband is a chiropractor.

"Every Christmas I get irritated when we get a card from them signed 'Janie and Dr. Dan,'" she fumed. "I always wish I had the nerve to sign our card to them, 'Annie and Mr. Joe.'"

It's not easy

As you've undoubtedly found, it's sometimes difficult to get patients to understand you without making it worse with pretentious language. For example, a physician tells of the following incident:

"While acquainting myself with a new elderly invalid patient, I asked, 'How long have you been bedridden?' After a look of complete confusion she answered, 'Not for about 20 years -- when my husband was alive.'" 



Optometric Management, Issue: January 2004