Wit in Emergency Medicine

Wordsmithing in Medical Toxicology: A Primer on Portmanteaus

Volume 15, Issue 4, July 2014
Timothy J. Meehan, MD, MPH

The history of language is littered with neologisms. When different cultures met, some words were subsumed – “hamburgesa,” the Spanish word for hamburger is an example. Sometimes spelling is changed in order to denote a cultural difference. There are a number of words that end in ‘er’ in American English, but finish with a ‘re’ in the British usage. Finally, some words are simply combined, deriving their meaning from their individual components, but in their artistry and simplicity are able to exceed the sum of their parts. Words such as these, a particular form of neologism called a portmanteau, can denote an entire idea in a single instant and provide the wordsmith with a particular type of joy.

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Emergency Medicine is a specialty which closely reflects societal challenges and consequences of public policy decisions. The emergency department specifically deals with social injustice, health and economic disparities, violence, substance abuse, and disaster preparedness and response. This journal focuses on how emergency care affects the health of the community and population, and conversely, how these societal challenges affect the composition of the patient population who seek care in the emergency department. The development of better systems to provide emergency care, including technology solutions, is critical to enhancing population health.