Word of the week: Acute

Today’s word is one of those whose non-medical usage annoys doctors. I shouldn’t say this, but that fact really makes me want to find a doctor to torment. Suffice it to say I won’t have to look far if I’m to execute my dastardly plan.

The issue is this: patients and doctors use the word differently. For patients, the meaning is closer to numbers 1, 4, 6 or 10 below in my Chambers Dictionary app definition. To doctors, the default sense is that articulated in number 11. So when you fetch up at A&E with appendicitis and say, “I’ve got an acute pain in my guts and it’s hurting something chronic”, your doctor is likely to get all pedantic and prissy on you.

Here’s a little added extra. When I was growing up in Dublin, it was quite common to hear shrewd, perceptive people—and clever dogs or small children wheedling for sweeties–described as ‘cute’. I only recently learned that this is an abbreviation of ‘acute’ (see meanings 5, 8 and 9 below).


So there you are. ‘Acute’ probably isn’t a new word for you, but with any luck you’re now viewing it in a different light.


Lynn is the founder and quality-maven-in-chief of Lexis Writing, a collective of expert writers creating high quality content and copy for businesses in the UK and beyond.

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