Children's medical malapropisms

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Many articles have been published over the years documenting the colorful range of malapropisms uttered by patients, transcriptionists, and, even physicians.1-7 Recently I discovered that children can dislocate medical language as well as the best of them.

I had just finished seeing a 4-year-old girl with dysuria who had a normal urinalysis and a mildly red introitus. When I told the child’s mother that her daughter’s urethra was irritated, the girl said, “It’s not your rethra, it’s my rethra.”

After this encounter, I started asking children at routine visits to repeat medical phrases and was surprised at how many complicated words they pronounced well. On the other hand, a fair number of words and phrases were turned on their ears.

The table below contains malapropisms spoken by 3- to 5-year-old patients in my office. The column on the left shows what I said to the child. The center column indicates the child’s response. In the third column, I added my own whimsical interpretation of the child’s response.


What I saidWhat the child saidWhat it means
Pyogenic granulomaPyogenic granolaTainted snack
SyncopeSickapeeHow nephrologists feel at the end of the day
Cystic ductCystic duckBird with acne
BradycardiaBrady coronerPathologist who does autopsies on the brady bunch
Moro reflexMoral reflexA trait some politicians lack
Transient ischemic attackTransient schematic attackBrief desire to do homework
PapilledemaPapal edemaWhat the pope gets after being on his feet all day
PruritusPurritisAllergy to cats
Myocardial infarctionMyocardial infractionEating too much fat
Incompetent cervixIncompetent serviceWhat managed care gets you
HemoglobinHemogoblinThe person who draws your blood
BezoarsBee’s oarsTiny paddles
TB testTV testTest to see whether a child is watching “Barney” too often
Toxic shock syndromeToxic sock syndromeResult of typical male adolescent foot hygiene
IpecacIpecatTreatment for kids who get into the cat food
Pleural effusionPleural allusionFluid that only a radiologist can see
ParesthesiasParis feversResponse to the city that tingles
Incontinentia pigmentiIncontinent piggyReason pooh won’t play house with piglet
Tarry stoolsTardy stoolsIndication for mineral oil
Growth potentialGross potentialAbility of 8-year-olds to tell sick jokes

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