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17 Secret Slang Terms Your Doctor Might Be Using

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Thanks to the popularity of shows like ER and Grey's Anatomy, you probably know a handful of medical terms. For instance, stat, or “at once," CCs (cubic centimeters), and Code Blue (a patient needs resuscitation). But how about Code Brown? Or incarceritis? Or turfing?

In his book The Secret Language of Doctors, emergency room physician Dr. Brian Goldman takes a look at hundreds of such slang terms. Here we explore 17 of them (and fair warning, some of these you might be better off not knowing).


The bunker is where medical residents meet to hand over patients, as well as, according to Goldman, where they often let loose—with tirades riddled with slang. The term might come from the military meaning of the word, a dug-out or reinforced shelter.


While a Code Blue mobilizes the cardiac team to resuscitate a patient, Hollywood Code signals a “pretend resuscitate”—in other words, going through the motions of saving a patient who is beyond saving, usually for the benefit of the patient’s loved ones.

Named for what's seen in the movies or on television, Hollywood Code also goes by "No Code" (as in “No Code Blue”), Slow Code, Show Code, and Light Blue.


While a beemer might refer to the ride sitting in an orthopedic surgeon’s driveway, it’s also slang for an obese patient. Beemer comes from BMI, or body mass index, a measure of body fat based on height and weight. Beemer Code refers to an extra fee a doctor might charge for treating an obese patient.

Other terms that reference obese patients include Yellow Submarine, an obese patient yellowed from liver disease, and harpooning the whale, attempting to give an epidural to an obese woman in labor.


Clinic unit is used to indicate weight, where one clinic unit equals 200 pounds. "'Three clinic units' is a sneaky way of saying the patient weighs 600 pounds,” says Goldman. This might come from the idea that a clinic is equal to an entire facility in a hospital, which, one assumes, weighs a lot.


This term for an especially bad or complicated medical condition is a blend of horrendous and -oma, the suffix for tumors.


GOMER seems to have a couple of different meanings and a few different theories regarding its origin. Some say the acronym stands for “get out of my emergency room” and refers to old and sometimes demented patients with several complicated conditions. Others say it actually means “grand old man of the emergency room.”

The word was popularized by Samuel Shem, the pen name of physician Stephen Bergman, in his 1978 novel House of God. Here, it's used to refer to patients who visit the hospital frequently with "complicated but uninspiring and incurable conditions." However, the Oxford English Dictionary’s earliest citation is from a July 1972 issue of National Lampoon: “Gomer, a senile, messy, or highly unpleasant patient.” This might come from the earlier military slang for someone inept or stupid, perhaps named for the bumbling Gomer Pyle of The Andy Griffith Show.


whiney primey is a first-time mother-to-be who comes to the hospital over and over, mistakenly thinking she's in labor. Primey comes from primipara, a woman who’s pregnant for the first time, also known as a primp.


Perhaps inspired by FUBAR (military slang for “f***ed up beyond all recognition”), FOOBA stands for "found on orthopaedics barely alive.” It's thought among medical professionals that orthopedic surgeons are excellent technicians but lacking in other areas. For instance, an internist Goldman knows says he’s seen many patients in orthopedic wards go into heart failure due to too much IV fluid.

Orthopedic surgeons are sometimes called orthopods, which is considered disparaging because of its resemblance to anthropoid, resembling an ape.


Cowboys refer to surgeons in general, with the idea that surgeons often "ride by the seat of their pants."

10. FLEA

The internist is the lowest on the medical totem pole and so the nickname, flea, seems fitting. Some say flea stands for “f***ing little esoteric a**hole,” but that’s probably a backronym.


According to Goldman, internists have a habit of making rare diagnoses, which are known as zebras. This slang term was coined in the 1940s by a Dr. Theodore Woodward, says linguist Barry Popik, who told his students, “Don’t look for zebras on Greene Street.” The quote somehow became, “When you hear hoofbeats behind you, don’t expect to see a zebra,” meaning don’t look for a more exotic diagnosis when something more routine fits the bill.

12. FTD

This FTD isn’t about saying it with flowers, it’s about a “failure to die.” Referring to elderly patients. FTDs are also known as walkers, which comes from the zombie slang term in The Walking Dead.

13. SFU 50

Used in surgery, SFU 50 is code to the anesthesiologist that the patient is becoming disruptive and needs to be given a drug to quiet down. The term is a combination of Effective Dose 50, which refers to a drug dose that produces an “all or nothing” effect in 50 percent of patients, and “shut the f**k up.”


To cheech, or cheech-bomb, is to order every test imaginable to diagnose an illness. It’s unclear how this term came about or if it has anything to do with Cheech and Chong. A synonym is flogging, as in flogging a dead horse.


frequent flyer is a patient who visits the ER often, usually “because they have no other place to receive care,” says Goldman.


Dyscopia, a mock-Latin term, means “failure to cope,” and refers to patients who have are having a difficult time emotionally. Dyscopia plays on dystopia, as well as other dys- medical lingo such as dyspeptic, dysphagia, and dystrophy.


Another mock-Latin phrase, status dramaticus refers to overly anxious patients who believe they're at death's door. The term plays on status asthmaticus, a severe asthma attack that doesn’t respond to usual treatment. 

Similar to status dramaticus is Camille, someone who believes (wrongly) that they’re about to die and aren’t shy about voicing it. The term is named for the tuberculosis-stricken heroine in the film Camille, based on the novel by Alexandre Dumas, who, spoiler alert, dies in the end in her lover’s arms.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]