Names matter. Most of us think very carefully about what we will call our children as we know that a carelessly chosen name can have dire consequences in the playground. But we also think carefully about what we call certain things. Do you have a ‘sitting room’, a ‘lounge’ or a ‘drawing room’?
Technically, they are all places where we relax in the evening but the names we give to things does change how we think about them. (The memory of a butchers’ shop that labelled itself a ‘meat purveyor’ still makes us chortle).
Recently we published a trial which compared compression hosiery to compression bandaging for patients with venous leg ulcers. The trial was published in a prestigious medical journal (hurrah!) but I was then approached to write an article about the trial for a nursing publication.
Throughout the trial we have referred to the two-layer stocking system that comprised the compression hosiery intervention as ‘stockings’ or ‘hosiery’. However, I got chatting with a nursing friend and we both agreed that when we were trying to persuade a patient to wear compression hosiery we usually referred to the garments as ‘socks’ (especially if the patient is a man).
So I went back to my review article and changed ‘stockings’ and ‘hosiery’ to ‘socks’ - but my research colleagues corrected this back to hosiery (since this is the term that is used within the literature).
I can see both sides of the argument. We need to communicate with other clinicians, researchers and industry using the words that are the accepted terminology within that specialism.
But when communicating with patients, we need to think very carefully about the words we choose. We need to use words that they understand and which are likely to make the unfamiliar more familiar and thus more acceptable. Especially when we are trying to persuade them to do something that they are reluctant to do, like wear tight stockings/socks on a probably swollen leg with an open (or healed) venous leg ulcer.
So where does this leave me as a nurse who works with clinicians, students, researchers and industry? I am certainly going to carry on talking about ‘socks’ with patients.
But, I think I am also going to start using the word ‘socks’ more often in my communication with everyone else - researchers, industry and students and other nurses - and especially when I am writing about compression.
I will probably couple ‘socks’ with ‘stockings’ and ‘hosiery’ to try to avoid confusion, but I think we to start choosing names that can be shared by both professionals and patients so we all speak the same language.
It’s time to bring ‘socks’ out of the closet!
PhD DN RGN
Lecturer in Community Nursing
School of Healthcare, University of Leeds
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