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Q and A on Jargon and Confusing Expressions

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D. This week I have answered more grammar questions from my readers. I will answer even more questions in the c...

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

This week I have answered more grammar questions from my readers. I will answer even more questions in the coming weeks. Don’t be discouraged by my slow response.

I will be glad if you could clarify these queries.

1. I've heard our colleagues in the medical profession say: “the patient has stroked” while referring to a patient that has developed stroke. Can we use the word 'stroke' as a verb? I thought we could only “strike” and get “struck”!

2. We sometimes in routine medical practice say “the patient has affectation of the heart” while referring to a patient whose heart was affected by one disease or the other. Is it allowed to use the word “affectation” in that sense?

3. We sometimes say that the patient passes “greenish” sputum when referring to passage of green sputum. Could that be a correct way of putting it?

The first thing I want to say in response to your questions is that different professions have different registers and vernaculars for in-group communication. And that is legitimate. It only becomes problematic when lingo that is comprehensible only within limited professional circles is used in conversational English.

I once called attention to such distinctive usages as academese (the lingo of scholars), journalese (the lingo of journalists), corporatese (the lingo of people in the corporate world), legalese (the lingo of lawyers), officialese (the lingo of government officials), bureaucratese (the lingo of bureaucrats), etc. The specialized language of medical doctors, as I'm sure you know, is called medicalese. Specialized languages of professions don't always obey the conventions of general English usage. And that's perfectly OK. The phrases you inquired about would qualify as medicalese.   

In general usage, it's unusual to hear people say a "patient has been stroked." It's more usual to say a patient "has stroke." A quick search on the Internet for your phrase shows that it appears only in few medical textbooks. That’s an indication that the expression isn’t formal even in medical circles. But stroke can be used as a verb in other contexts, such as to mean rub something gently (as in: he stroked the cat). In American informal English when “stroke” is used as a verb, it can also mean to flatter, as in: “He stroked me to get my support for his proposal.”

Similarly, "affectation of the heart" is very rare in everyday usage. It's decidedly medicalese. But on the rare occasions that it's used outside medical contexts, it's often no more than a long-winded phrase for "love" or tender emotions. I've found the phrase used mostly in (Christian) theological literature and in archaic, sentimental writing. In modern everyday usage, affectation can also mean showy, exaggerated, insincere display (of emotions).

I don't see anything unusual with the way you say doctors use “greenish.” The suffix "ish" is used mostly to signify that something is close to something but is not quite it. It shows, in other words, that something approximates but isn't quite what you're describing. In native-speaker spoken English, for instance, it's usual for people to say something like: "let's meet around 10: 30ish tomorrow morning. That means we should meet any time from 10:30 a.m. to probably no later than 10:50 a.m. So "greenish" means not quite green but close to green in the color spectrum.

What is the difference between “ask of” and “ask after”? Should it be “my sister asked of you” or my sister asked after you”?

To ask after someone is to seek to know about their health or wellbeing. Saying “how is your dad? Say hi to him” qualifies as “asking after” my dad. So I could say something like, “When I see my dad next week, I’ll tell him you asked after him.” Nigerian English speakers, however, tend to use “ask of” where native speakers use “ask after.” It is customary in Nigerian English to say “he asked of you” when people intend to convey the sense that someone inquired about their wellbeing.

 Well, if you tell a native English speaker that your dad or mom “asked of” them, they are likely to retort: “asked of me to do what?” In native varieties of English, “ask of” usually means “demand or request.” Example: “The present asked of his countrymen to be patriotic.” So “my dad asked of you” could be interpreted to mean a cryptic way of saying  “my daddy asked of you to be nice to people since you’re such an obnoxious person”! OK, that’s a stretch, but I hope you get the point.

Apparently, Nigerian English speakers are not the only people who have distorted the idiom “ask after.” Scottish English speakers, according to the Oxford Dictionary of English, use “ask for” instead of the standard “ask after.”

I greatly enjoyed your "Top 10 Outdated and/or Made-up Words in Nigerian English.” I am guilty of using many of the words you identified. There is another word Nigerians use a lot that I don’t find in my dictionary. It’s “insultive.” Does it also belong in the category of outdated and/or made-up word Nigerian English words?

Yes, it does. The usual word in Standard English is “insulting.” It is both an adjective (such as in the following sentence: “his action was insulting”) and a continuous verb (such as in the following sentence: “he is insulting our culture”). No modern English dictionary I know of has an entry for “insultive.” I’ve also never heard or seen “insultive” used in the spoken and written English of native speakers (of Standard English). However, I don’t think the use of “insultive” in place of “insulting” is uniquely Nigerian. I’ve seen the word used by many non-native English speakers, perhaps on the model of such adjectives as vegetative, speculative, educative, qualitative, etc.

Can “quote” be used as a noun, such as in the following expression: “I memorized many quotes from philosophers.” One of my friends said only “quotation” can be used in that expression; that “quote” should be used only as a verb. Is she right?

She is both right and wrong. Most grammarians advise people to use “quotation” as a noun and “quote” as a verb in formal contexts. Examples: “His essay is full of quotations from famous writers.” “He quotes many philosophers in his essays.” However, in informal, casual contexts, it is perfectly acceptable to use quote as a noun. E.g.: “While going through a book of quotations, I came across many interesting quotes by famous people.”

According to the 2002 edition of the Merriam-Webster's Concise Dictionary of English Usage, “The noun quote, short for quotation, was first recorded in 1888. . . . This sense of quote has met with strong disapproval in some quarters. Such commentators as Bernstein 1965, Follett 1966, Shaw 1977, and Trimmer & McCrimmon 1988 have disparaged its use in writing, and the Heritage 1969, 1982 usage panel rejected it by a large majority (the 2000 panel has lightened up). Some other critics, however, have taken a more tolerant view. Harper 1985, for example, accepts its use in writing that has 'a conversational tone,' and Bremner 1980 calls it ‘standard in the publishing business.’”

My advice is that you should restrict the use of quote as a noun to informal contexts.

Is it finance consultant or financial consultant?

The usual phrase is “financial consultant.” “Finance consultant” is rare. But there are occasions when “finance,” normally a noun, can be used in an attributive sense. That means it can sometimes be used like an adjective, i.e., like “financial.” For instance, it’s usual to see phrases like “finance consulting,” “finance jobs,” “finance calculator.”

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