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July 11, 1980

Defining Pain Terms

Author Affiliations

Tufts University School of Medicine Boston
From the Department of Anesthesiology, Tufts University School of Medicine, Boston.

JAMA. 1980;244(2):143. doi:10.1001/jama.1980.03310020019018

THE MEANING of many terms we use in medicine can be interpreted in various ways, depending on who does the interpreting. Partly that is because some terms defy precise definition, partly because we use terms loosely, and partly because of differences in cultural and educational backgrounds. With the English language assuming the role of lingua franca, the possibility of misinterpretation is further compounded when medical terms are applied by physicians with limited fluency in English. Ethnic shadings and subtle differences in local meaning introduced by direct translation could well obscure the original author's true intent.

In an amorphous field such as the care and study of pain—where words are colored by experience, tradition, culture, and surroundings—uniformity of verbal and written communication was thought to be well-nigh impossible. Yet it is vitally important to the patient suffering from pain that each attending physician understand precisely what other colleagues observed and elicited,