What's in a name?

Jane Bates ponders nurses' esoteric lingo.

Jane Bates ponders nurses' esoteric lingo  

When we refer to our work schedule, why do we call it our ‘off duty’ when it is actually telling us when we are on duty? 

My theory is that we are concentrating on the times we are off work rather than in harness – a much more cheerful prospect and a glass half-full approach to the daily grind. 

Like any other profession, nurses have their esoteric lingo, and it speaks volumes about us. Another term that intrigues me is ‘going off’ when referring to a patient, as though they were a bomb or a week-old haddock that had been left out in the sun. 

It is a euphemism, of course, for severe deterioration, but it sounds so understated that an outsider would be forgiven for thinking it was something trivial.

And does anyone remember ‘Mrs Brown’? She was an ever-present preoccupation in my early nursing years. Taking a break while on duty was frowned on by the hospital hierarchy, so any refreshment had to be referred to in code. Hence ‘Mrs Brown needs you' simply meant that a cup of tea was in the offing, even though it had to be discussed with the icy nonchalance of a Cold War double agent.

What do these things say about the nursing character? First of all, we are optimistic and cool in a crisis. We also have a professional sense of rectitude, coupled with a rebellious streak.

And nothing comes between us and a nice cup of tea.

About the author

Jane Bates

Jane Bates is an ophthalmic nurse in Hampshire


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