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December 6, 1976

Who or What Developed?

JAMA. 1976;236(23):2657. doi:10.1001/jama.1976.03270240053032

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When Third World nations changed their designation from "underdeveloped" to "developing," they made it clear that there are nuances in the meaning of "development." In a different context, "developing" is proving to be a problem word in medical communications.

Every medical editor is familiar with "the patient developed...," an expression that all too frequently recurs in case reports. Be it a symptom, a syndrome, or a sickness, the patient never tires of "developing" it—and the editor never tires of blue-penciling the transitive "developed." The patient, our stylebooks tell us, may develop an idea, a theme, a project, a skill—anything in which he is an active participant—but he cannot develop a sickness, a syndrome, a symptom, or any other process independent of his volition.

Reluctant to seek substitutes for "developed," the editor frequently attempts to retain it by inverting the sentence so as to have the symptom, syndrome, or sickness "develop"