Emergency Department Dirty Words

In any Emergency Department there are a couple of words whose utterance will immediately earn the speaker social disapprobation at minimum, and quite frequently half-joking threats of physical violence.

These are not your average, run of the mill profanities, though one is a four-letter word. No, we’re quite immune to ‘Sailor speech’, and most of us don’t even bat an eye when those pedestrian words are spoken. No, not those words.

The power of the words is inextricably linked to most ED workers’ innate superstition, else these words wouldn’t have the impact, and engender the cold sweat and dread way out of proportion to their intended meanings.

Brace yourselves. The words are “Quiet” and “Slow”. Don’t look very fearsome, do they? Right now you’re saying ‘this is just silly’, and you’d be right, unless you uttered them in a slow or quiet ED, then you’d be a pariah, for the next happening will be the blare of the ambulance radios and a bus-station line at the triage desk.

So, you’ve been warned. Ban them from your vocabulary. Then start on the sailor talk, too.


  1. Thanks for getting the word out–amazing how many ancillary staff/police etc. don’t know this when they happen upon a qu*** night in the ER.

    (I recall this phenomenon was actually studied: a coin was flipped and an ER doctor commented loudly on whether it was a qu*** shift or not, then volumes were calculated. The null hypothesis was correct, but I think there must have been methodilogical problems.)

  2. Oh, believe me, those words have the same effect on the critical care units too.

    The last time someone said the Q word when I was the charge nurse I ended up throwing three patients out onto the floor so I could take three balloon pump patients – and I had about an hour to do it.

    I really hate to wake up the ICU medical director at 0200 because somebody said the Q word.

  3. The penalties for using the Q-word on a shift have always been fierce! As a fourth generation R.N., I learned early…

  4. Jim in Texas says:

    I think it’s called “The Law of the Unmentionable”

    As soon as you say it, if it’s good it goes away, if it’s bad, it happens.

    Similar to when your driving and you casually remark to the spouse “Wow! I’ve been really lucky getting through green lights.”

    Your driving streak will end at that moment!

  5. Sam Seaborn: You wrote a concession?
    Toby Ziegler: Of course I wrote a concession. You want to tempt the wrath of the whatever from high atop the thing?
    Sam Seaborn: No.
    Toby Ziegler: Then go outside, turn around three times and spit. What the hell’s the matter with you?


  1. medmusings says:

    links for 2005-09-08

    Palo Alto Online: Keplers Rally “Palo Alto Weekly and its http://www.PaloAltoOnline.com Web site broke the story of the abrupt closure on Wednesday” PAWeekly did NOT break the story, it was a citizen journalist at Dan Gilmor’s Bayosphere blog that did so, ea…

  2. […] written before about the Dirty Words of the ED, and now I can add another, based on tonights’ […]