Jargon - Correct and Preferred Usage

AMA Manual of Style - Stacy L. Christiansen, Cheryl Iverson 2020

Correct and Preferred Usage

Many words have found their way into medical vocabularies with unusual meanings that are not recognized even by medical dictionaries. Such writings may be characterized as medical jargon or medical slang. When these words appear in medical manuscripts or in medical conversation, they are unintelligible to other scientists, particularly those of foreign countries; they are not translatable and are the mark of the careless and uncultured person.

Morris Fishbein, MD21

Jargon is . . . a language exquisitely precise, using terms in a highly specific sense. It is highly rational, addressed to the intellect and not the emotions; a technical language, intended for a particular group engaged in a particular activity. . . . Jargon has a specificity and precision of meaning, intelligible to a limited group but more or less baffling to other groups.

Lester S. King, MD22

Words and phrases that can be understood in conversation but are vague, confusing, or depersonalizing are generally inappropriate in formal scientific writing (see 7.7, Diction; 11.1, Correct and Preferred Usage of Common Words and Phrases; and 19.5, Glossary of Statistical Terms).


Preferred form

4+ albuminuria

proteinuria (4+)

blood sugar

blood glucose


medical record

chief complaint

chief concern



congenital heart

congenital heart disease; congenital cardiac anomaly

emergency room

emergency department





gastrointestinal infection

gastrointestinal tract infection or infection of the gastrointestinal tract

genitourinary infection

genitourinary tract infection or infection of the genitourinary tract

heart attack

myocardial infarction

hyperglycemia of 250 mg/dL

hyperglycemia (blood glucose level of 250 mg/dL)

jugular ligation

jugular vein ligation or ligation of the jugular vein



left heart failure

left ventricular failure [preferred, but query author]; left-sided heart failure

normal range

reference range

Pap smear

Papanicolaou test

the patient failed treatment

treatment failed


premature infant





psychiatric floor

psychiatric department, service, unit, ward

randomized patients

randomly assigned patients

respiratory infection

respiratory tract infection or infection of the respiratory tract


operations or surgical procedures


symptoms [query author]

therapy of [a disease or condition]

therapy for

treatment for [a disease or condition]

treatment of

urinary infection

urinary tract infection or infection of the urinary tract

The following terms and euphemisms should be changed to preferred forms:



expired, passed, passed away, succumbed



killed; humanely killed; euthanized

Avoid trivializing or dehumanizing disciplines or specialties. For example:

Osteopathic physician and osteopathic medicine, not osteopath and osteopathy

Cardiologic consultant or cardiology consultation, not cardiology [for the person]

Orthopedic surgeon, not orthopod

Colloquialisms, idioms, and vulgarisms should be avoided in formal scientific writing. Exceptions may be made in editorials and informal articles.