The endocrinologist wore a white coat to match the thatch of white hair surmounting his pate and wrote my anamnesis down hurriedly without looking up, occasionally repeating his questions because he hadn’t heard my answers. (The doctor was hard of hearing but, typical of his profession, obviously hadn’t bothered to remedy the condition.) When my narrative came to benign prostatic hyperplasia, I interrupted to ask about the difference between ‘hyperplasia’ and ‘hypertrophy’, since the condition is vernacularly known as ‘enlargement’. His answer, pronounced with what passed for a smile, was: “That’s just semantics.” Then, evidently embarrassed, he backed up and gave a short definition of each of the terms.

This common denigration of the science of meaning is particularly unfortunate coming from a physician, who of all professionals should be sensitive to the profound bond between words and feelings, hence to the prominent role language and its precise use play in the healing arts.