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Dictionaries and Usage

Lester S. King, MD
JAMA. 1973;226(13):1564-1565. doi:10.1001/jama.1973.03230130052019.
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Modern education conditions us to regard a dictionary with reverence. It serves as a point of stability, a standard in a world of constant change. A few years ago a great tumult arose when the new edition of Webster's Third International Dictionary retreated from the position of setting rigid standards, contenting itself with reporting the actual usages, what is rather than what ought to be.

Medical dictionaries generally do not have to contend with this problem. New terms come into being and naturally are included in new editions. At the same time, obsolete terms get eliminated. Only rarely, however, do medical terms undergo a major change in usage.

This problem, nevertheless, so common in ordinary speech, is becoming intrusive into medicine with a recent JAMA publication [Meyerowitz et al, 225:408, 1973] that dealt with an excision of a massive abdominal fold. The authors were not entirely consistent in their


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