In the ironically titled ‘The increasing pseudodignification of medical prose’, retired consultant Neville W. Goodman bemoans the failure of medical writers (by which he means people who write scientific papers) to use simple words.1 Goodman explores trends in word usage from 1930 to 2010 using PubMed as a source of data on scientific writing and Google's Ngram Viewer (English Fiction corpus) for general writing. He finds that for many pairs of words comprising an approved (simple) and disapproved alternative (e.g. given and administered) the approved word is more likely to be chosen by writers of fiction than by writers of scientific papers. He presents evidence that this is an old problem, but one that is getting worse. He highlights the rise of the disfavoured word novel (prefer new), which appeared in no less than 8.5% of abstracts in 2014. All this in spite of concerted efforts to encourage the adoption of plain English (as explored in the March 2015 issue of Medical Writing). Goodman is downbeat about the outlook for scientific English but offers no solutions to the problems afflicting it.
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