A research duo from Dartmouth and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute has discovered that cancer medications have names that are associated with “lightness, smallness, and fastness”. Moreover, Gregory Abel, a Dartmouth linguist, goes further to say that there might be a “subtle effect on both the patient taking the medicine and the doctor prescribing it.”
The study, titled “Chemotherapy as language: Sound symbolism in cancer medication names,” was published online on Feb. 4, 2008, in the journal Social Science and Medicine. Glinert collaborated with Gregory Abel, a co-author on the study who is with the Center for Outcomes and Policy Research at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and a member of the Dartmouth Class of 1991.
In their paper, Abel and Glinert explain that the use of language and narrative and its significance in caring for patients has been studied. Their examination adds a linguistic layer to the scholarship, deepening the understanding of how the sounds in a medication’s name might have an underlying symbolism. The team looked at the sound symbolism of 60 frequently used cancer medications. Sound symbolism is the phenomenon where tiny bits of sounds have intrinsic connotations.
“Medications are a bridge between patients and health care providers, and our findings might point to some symbolic and subtle, yet powerful, associations with the names of those medications,” says Glinert, who is also affiliated with Dartmouth’s program in linguistics and cognitive science. “The fact that sounds that elicit lightness, smallness, and fastness were found in the names of cancer medicines might suggest that it helps patients handle the therapy.”