Word Gets Around


The online version of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) is the latest in a string of dictionaries to include the word “hospitalist” among its entries.

“This is just another sign that “hospitalist” has become another part of the landscape, and that we’ve arrived and will be here for a very long time,” says Larry Wellikson, MD, CEO of SHM. “I think SHM has been working on defining what a hospitalist is in textbooks and other reference materials since I got here in 2000.”

Asked if SHM solicited the OED staff to include hospitalist in its entries, Dr. Wellikson said it wasn’t necessary. “No, we didn’t lobby them,” he says. “They did it totally on their own. If you Google hospitalist, you’ll see thousands of stories that have been written during the past 10 years, including by such publications as the The Wall Street Journal.”

Dr. Wellikson noted that CNN’s Larry King mentioned hospitalists during a segment in 2005. “[The word hospitalist] has turned up in so many places,” he says.

To date, “hospitalist” has been included in print editions of The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Merriam-Webster’s collegiate and medical dictionaries, as well as other print medical dictionaries and some online dictionaries. The American Heritage Dictionary appears to be the first to have included the word in a print edition in 2000, according to a spokesman for the publication.

The process of selecting a new word for inclusion in a dictionary appears fairly constant in the industry.

“It can include suggestions from our readership or people in a particular industry who might suggest that a new word unique to their profession should be included,” says Katherine Martin, senior assistant editor at OED’s New York offices. “It also includes our own (staff) study to ascertain if a certain word that is tested over time will have continued longevity.”

Tested over time indeed. Martin and other dictionary staff members say it can sometimes take up to 10 years for a new word to be included in a dictionary.

That’s how long it took to include hospitalist in Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, according to a spokesman for that publication. And while hospitalist was included in the OED’s online version in December 2006, it’s uncertain if it will ever get into the print version, according to Martin.

The OED’s second edition was last printed in 1989, Martin says, and because of the huge cost involved, “We haven’t even begun discussing the possibility of printing a third edition.”

Access to the 20-volume print edition is available to subscribers to the OED’s fee-based online version, Martin says.

The term hospitalist was first introduced in 1996 in an article by Robert M. Wachter, MD, and Lee Goldman, MD, to describe physicians who devote much of their professional time and focus to the care of hospitalized patients.

Merriam-Webster began monitoring the term when the article first appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine, according to Peter Sokolowski, associate editor. He says hospitalist made it into the company’s collegiate dictionary in 2005, and the medical dictionary a year later.

For the most part, both print and online dictionaries give a relatively simple definition of hospitalist: “A physician specializing in the care of hospital in-patients,” says the OED’s online version. Merriam-Webster’s dictionaries define the term as “a physician who specializes in treating hospitalized patients of other physicians in order to minimize the number of hospital visits by other physicians.”

Perhaps the most extensive definition online appears in Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia. In addition to the definition, Wikipedia also provides information on the specialty under various subtitles, including Training and History. TH

Tom Giordano is a freelance journalist based in Connecticut

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