February 23, 2005

Circling Chicago

I just finished reading Idiom Savant: Slang as it is Slung by Jeffrey Dunn. It wasn’t a good book. Dunn fooled me by putting the best section first. There should be an expression for this, one that means front-loading the good stuff. It could be applied in various contexts, including romantic relationships (“watch out for her; she’s a front-loader”).

The one section I liked covered the slang of nurses, doctors, and hospital staff. In a footnote on the first page, an anonymous nurse apologies for the callousness of the slang, saying that such expressions are “a defense mechanism that protects us from being overwhelmed by a sea of pain and suffering.” Indeed.

A few favorites:

  • bury the hatchet v. to sew up a patient with a surgical instrument mistakenly left inside.
  • circling the drain adj. close to death, lingering.
  • cut and paste v. to surgically open a patient, find that there is no hope for treatment, and sew him up again without delay.
  • gone camping adj. in an oxygen tent.
  • loose change n. a nearly severed limb that will require amputation.
  • waiting for the train to Chicago v. close to death, in spite of the best medical efforts. “He has his bags packed and is waiting for the train to Chicago.”

That last one raised questions. Why Chicago? Also, what city do Chicago nurses say instead of Chicago?

Later I realized that this expression could be combined with circling the drain to create the hybrid Circling Chicago, which would not only mean “approaching death” but could serve as a handy euphemism for foreplay.