Terrible Medical Terms | Abnormal Facies

Posted on March 4, 2012


Ask anyone in the medical field and they will tell you that part of their training essentially consists of learning a new language.  Medical terminology is our solution for allowing practitioners to describe observations & procedures to each other in a semi-standardized format.  However, some of the terminology we use is insensitive and downright silly.

For a while now, I have been mulling over the idea of a new periodic segment in which I’ll draw attention to these terms or phrases so we can all have a laugh (maybe a bit harder if you actually went to medical school).  And for my 100th post, what better way to kick this off than with this blog’s namesake, “abnormal facies” – a constellation of atypical facial features, usually associated with DiGeorge Syndrome.

Meriam-Webster defines facies (n.) as:

1: general appearance <a plant species with a particularly distinct facies>
2: an appearance and expression of the face characteristic of a particular condition especially when abnormal <adenoid facies>
3: a part of a rock or group of rocks that differs from the whole formation (as in composition, age, or fossil content)

When I first heard the term, I thought the lecturer just had a peculiar pronunciation of the word “faces” – after all, why would we create a new term when saying “abnormal facial features” would suffice? And if you’re going for that pretentious, Latin feel, why not make it “facies abnormia” instead of half-assing it?

But I was wrong; this term continued to present itself, sometimes conjoined with other abominations – mauskopf [German, “mouse head”] facies in scleroderma, moon facies in Cushing’s, leonine facies in leprosy, masked facies in Parkinson’s – the list goes on.

So, as a tribute to the absurdity of medicine (and because damn it, I just couldn’t think of a better one at the time), that is the story of how my blog got its name.

Posted in: Humor, Medicine