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It’s only words…

Language is everything. It has a huge influence on our lives.

‘Only €99’ is an example. We know that there are two tricks of salesmanship and language at play here. ‘Only’ is a seductive voice that links us to some friend telling us about great value (friends use this the whole time: ‘Sure, robbing an apple is only a small sin’ or ‘it’s only a cigarette’). We almost separate the ‘only’ from the actual number 99. It could as well be ‘only’ a million.

The second trick is the €99. Our mind thinks this is a much better price than €100 — 100 is the tipping-point number. The saving seems much more than €1. So it tips you over into buying a product that you may not have bought for €100. As a Kerryman said to me: “The more you spend, the more you save.”

Imagine in medicine, if your doctor used the same sales technique: “You ONLY have cancer of the prostate.” In fairness, ‘cancer’ is a much stronger word than ‘only’, so you would probably not notice the word ‘only’. In fact, you would be forgiven for getting a little angry with your doctor for minimising what you think is a very serious condition.

Emotion and stress can really affect what we hear and what we see

However, the facts are that many cancers are very slow-growing and in an older person, many cancers of the prostate take so many years to develop that it is far more likely that you will die of something else entirely.

Language is everything and ‘cancer’ remains a powerful trigger word.

I still remember many years ago seeing a stressed patient who asked to see the written x-ray report on my desk. It had 10 lines of typed text. In the centre of this text was the word ‘cancer’. There were a lot of other medical words. My patient got even more stressed after reading the report. I was curious about this because I was trying my best to reassure her.

When I asked her what the problem was, she pointed at the ‘cancer’ word. I went through it all with her in detail and she discovered that the radiologist who read the x-ray was specifically saying there was no sign of cancer. In the olden days, radiologists used to just write ‘normal x-ray’.

But nowadays radiologists write more detail and in this case, even the mention of cancer had the patient worried and blind to the full explanation and reassurance. Even when we try to reassure patients, they often hear the opposite.

This means that language is slippery. We can sometimes pick out bits that we want to hear or even bits that we don’t want to hear. Emotion and stress can really affect what we hear and what we see.

What do you say when you are asked what you do for a crust? Do you say I am ONLY a housewife, ONLY a GP, ONLY a house-husband? And what is your reply when someone asks if you are ONLY a GP or are you a specialist?

The world would collapse without mothers and fathers and GPs, so what is the story here? I like to think that GPs look after 90 per cent of all illnesses. I like to think that mothers are underpaid and under-resourced creators of magnificent human wealth. Stay-at-home fathers show the world and kids what is important.

Imagine a world where there are no GPs. Everyone would have to go to casualty and completely choke the system up. Yes, even worse! All rural areas would have to depend on the level of skill and experience that a nurse can exhibit, if they could get a nurse to work there 24/7/365. Nurses’ medical insurance would soar. The Government would have to pay for this 100 per cent.

Salaries, pay scales, holidays and sickness benefit. Pharmacies would look after small acute illnesses and not offer any medication, nor seek any payment, because that is the right thing to do! So first we will get rid of the nurses because now they are too expensive and then the pharmacies, because the village will have evaporated.

But look, it’s okay. Successive Governments are closing local hospitals, local pubs, local post offices, small local businesses and small local medical practices. Big is beautiful. We will all live and work in larger and larger cities, with larger and larger hospitals and longer and longer queues. I feel healthier and happier already.

Language is everything and big people will make big profits when the little people are gone. But that is ONLY my opinion. What is yours?

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