According to a widespread view, people or experiences that evoke painful feelings of empathy, anxiety, or fear can be dealt with by giving them humorous, derogatory, or evasive names. Such terms allow the release or avoidance of unpleasant emotion. At first glance, hospital slang expressions for patients appear to provide numerous examples of this, but closer inspection suggests very different conclusions. Patient conditions which may be expected to create particular anxiety or distress do not lead to slang labels. Slang terms for patients fall into four categories, three of which characterize types of patients who claim more attention for their conditions than is warranted. The fourth category is made up of positive or neutral descriptive terms.
Hospital slang for patients serves social as well as expressive functions. Rapport within a group and rapport between individuals are distinct phenomena. When embedded in contexts that avoid individualized expressions of emotion or experience, hospital slang may promote group rapport at the same time that it maintains individual distance. In this respect is is similar to other kinds of slang, and other discourse devices. (Slang, discourse negotiation and contextualization, medical anthropology, rapport, expressive function of names and labels.)