Nine Outdated Medical and Psychological Terms

“A Touch of Rheumatism”, Charles Spencelayh

My wife and I were recently discussing once-common words that have since fallen out of favor. For instance, in the 1960s everybody referred to marijuana as "grass". Today it's called a million things except grass. Similarly, nobody calls condoms "rubbers" anymore. Of course this is just street slang, and slang changes by the decade if not the year. However, we noticed a lot of terms from the world of physical and psychological medicine that, for various reasons, have become obsolete. Although many of the older terms are still used technically by professionals, I'm focusing on general layman's usage in this list.

  1. Rheumatism. A generic term no doctor uses anymore. What it once referred to is today called rheumatoid arthritis.
  2. Anal retentive. This Freudian term for extreme neat-freakism has since been replaced by "obsessive compulsive", though psychologists mark a strong difference between Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder, the latter being their true equivalent of "anal retentive".
  3. Tranquilizer. Up until the 1980s, "tranquilizer" was the word used to refer to a variety of anti-anxiety drugs, but usually Valium. Today even Valium has taken a back seat to trendy brands like Xanax, Ativan, and so forth. We don't call them "tranquilizers". Tranquilizers are what you inject into wild animals. If we must use something besides a brand name, the generic word "meds" gets tossed around a lot.
  4. Lockjaw. The word "tetanus" has always been part of our vocabulary. Every child needs to get his tetanus shot, because that rusty nail is out there somewhere. But even when I was a kid, the disease was colorfully referred to as "lockjaw", which I never hear these days.
  5. Nervous breakdown. "Nervousness" was commonly cited by doctors of yesteryear to describe what we now call anxiety. And "nervous breakdowns" were the things that sent your poor old Uncle Charlie to the "sanitarium", not rehabilitation center, for "treatment", not therapy. Professionals refer to it now as a mental breakdown, but the man on the street will more often use the slight misnomer "panic attack", a somewhat recent term.
  6. Manic depressive. Today's bipolar.
  7. Senility. Once accepted as just a part of aging, "senility" was not seen as any sort of disease. In fact, when Alzheimer's was first discovered a century ago, it was originally called "presenile dementia", meaning you were losing your memory earlier than nature designed. "Senility" is a socially incorrect word to use now, and so it has been wholly replaced by Alzheimer's.
  8. Grippe. We head back to great-grandpa's day for this one. You'll find it all the time in books from the 1800s, right up there with things like consumption (tuberculosis) or dropsy (congestive heart failure). What we once called the "grippe" we now call the flu. The French still say grippe.
  9. ADD. It's ironic that the relatively new acronym "ADD", Attention Deficit Disorder, should be replaced in common parlance so quickly with ADHD, Attention-deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. We couldn't sit still long enough for ADD! Doctors make it clear that these are two very different behaviors. But your spazzy friends who were once quick to cite ADD as an excuse for their flakiness were even quicker to re-diagnose themselves as having ADHD. What's next? ADHHDDH?