Lehman JS. The Problem With “Pruritis”. Arch Dermatol. 2010;146(2):203-204. doi:10.1001/archdermatol.2009.373
The dermatologic term pruritus appears to be misspelled frequently as pruritis in dermatology residency applications, formal presentations, and the medical literature (unpublished observations). Because spelling accuracy often is necessary to optimize retrieval of articles in electronic databases,1 I evaluated the prevalence of and risk factors contributing to the misspelling of pruritus as pruritis in the titles and abstracts of articles cataloged in PubMed.
On December 23 and 24, 2008, I performed electronic literature searches on PubMed using the search terms “pruritus” and “pruritis”. Quotation marks were used around each term to evade automatic spelling correction by database software. Inclusion criteria included publication in the English language within the last 5 years. Titles and abstracts from all articles retrieved with a search for pruritis were analyzed, as were those of the same number of articles containing pruritus (starting from the most recent article listed). I recorded the nature of the journal (dermatology vs nondermatology), journal impact factors (as reported in Journal Citation Reports2), and whether authors were affiliated with institutions in countries having English as one of the official languages (as reported in Wikipedia.com, accessed December 23, 2008). For journals not included in Journal Citation Reports, the impact factor was approximated at 0.0 to facilitate calculations.
Pruritus was misspelled as pruritis in approximately 5% of titles and abstracts of articles on the topic indexed in PubMed. More detailed results are reported in the Table. Risk factors for misspelling included publication in a nondermatology journal and authorship by writers from countries in which English is an official language. Journal impact factor did not appear to be correlated with frequency of term misspelling.
These findings imply that copy editors of nondermatology medical journals and authors from English-speaking countries should be particularly vigilant in identifying and correcting this common misspelling prior to the publication of articles discussing pruritus. This is particularly important because such misspelling could limit the sensitivity of electronic searches for articles about pruritus.
Despite the dearth of information on misspelling in the medical literature, I speculate that the reasons for the misspelling of pruritus could be several. For example, familiarity with the medical suffix “-itis” (a Greek suffix meaning “inflammation of the anatomic structure indicated by the associated word stem”3) may lead to incorrect assumptions regarding the spelling of pruritus. Moreover, English-speaking authors who rely on phonetics to guide spelling may be led astray by the similar pronunciation of pruritus and pruritis.
It is unknown whether spelling errors were present in original article titles and abstracts or they were introduced during database abstraction, a phenomenon that has been described previously.4 Inaccurate spelling of pruritus is unlikely to be attributable entirely to errors in database indexing, however, since other factors (such as publication in a nondermatology journal) were directly associated with risk for misspelling.
Correspondence: Dr Lehman, Department of Dermatology, Mayo Clinic, 200 First St SW, Rochester, MN 55905 (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Accepted for Publication: August 18, 2009.
Financial Disclosure: None reported.