Doctors use rude acronyms to talk about you

The subject of the diagnosis of Down Syndrome babies came up over dinner last night with a couple-friend of ours. I recounted the tale of the scary first trimester screen with baby Stella and my secret nerves during the final pushes of labor. Since we had declined further testing, we had to be prepared for the possibility of a Down Syndrome diagnosis when she was born. Once she was out, no one said anything, so I figured we were cool. And we were!

“Oh,” said our friend who happens to be a doctor, “if they had suspected Down, they wouldn’t have discussed it in front of you. They would have said something like, ‘I think we have an F.L.K.’ ”


“Funny looking kid.”

Hold up, I had to bring some 1997 Indiana out on her. SAY HUH? Funny looking kid? Is this universal? Like could she walk into any hospital and use this phrase and be understood? That answer was murky, but apparently the term “FLK” is part of the language where she went to medical school in the midwest.

I told her if I found out a healthcare professional had used the term “funny looking kid” to describe my child, I’d raise hell. I might even clock a doc. An epidural won’t keep my fisticuffs from swinging.

I realize being a doctor is a human job and like any other occupation, there’s bound to be some slang and us-against-them terminology. Ask anyone in the car business what a “rat” is or run the term “camper” past a restaurant server. Every industry has its slang-jagon (slargon?). But it sits wrong with me that there would be such a hurtful term for a baby with medical problems used by her caregivers.

I found a whole slew of other medical slang here. Yikes, I hope I never hear my doctor say “AGMI” (ain’t gonna make it) or say “LLS” (looks like shit) about me. Lo, FLK is on that list.

If anyone can weigh in on this (or share some delicious terms from other industries) please share. I must to get to the bottom of this!

Filed under: Doctors behaving badly


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  • Wow, that is harsh!

    In the tame world of bicycling we refer to our FLK's as Freds. These are usually the guys with the mirrors mounted to their glasses and a helmet that looks like a styrofoam beer cooler...

    Are those NAMBLA guys still harassing you?

  • In reply to Brent Cohrs:

    Oh, the MRAs? No, they just have a deceitful profile up about me on their "register her" site. There are like nine people in their bigot category: Sharon Osborne, Katherine Heigl, several career feminists and *me*. So in that way I'm honored, I guess!

  • In my few years working in the medical field we've had a couple of code words in the offices I worked in. I don't know if they're universal or not, but if you worked there you understood. I once hid under my desk, literally, from a Mrs. Jones. No that wasn't her name, but that was the term we used from the super annoying, talk way too much, leave me the eff alone patients we had.

  • In reply to mivie0513:

    At least you're talking about adults and basing it on their behavior!

  • Hey Jenna:
    I'm a doc and gotta tell you, I have heard the FLK acronym before, but none of the others. Generally rude and uncaring docs use that to be "funny," and I have probably heard it used twice in the last 15 years. I have an idea, let's denigrate all docs, though, like you're trying to do with your article. Better yet, let's start working on building resentment toward them, kinda like the president is doing to pit one segment of America against the other. Well, that would be in keeping with your "activist" and "feminist" bona fides, wouldn't it?

  • In reply to Hawk777:

    Thank you for confirming that doctors use the term "FLK", meaning "funny looking kid" which is horrible and offensive.

  • Does this really matter, and if so .... who cares? When you see a 48 year old 450 woman wearing pink hot pants, you might not say anything to her, or for that matter say anything to the people in your immediate vicinity, but face i;, you're thinking what everyone else is thinking, and there is no escaping this. The same thing applies to anyone we see, and recognize as being somewhat "out of the norm". What you are suggesting is that we all somehow deny our own visual prejudices which is next to impossible to do.

    The perfect PC world you wish to live in does not exist, and it never will. Get over it.

  • In reply to MarkRVillano:

    Actually, I think doctors using immature, taunting language to describe a newborn patient with medical problems is HORRENDOUS behavior.. We're not talking about an adult who has chosen to walk around in public in "pink hot pants" we are talking about a child with disabilities under the care of a trusted physician.

    You want to talk about the perfect PC world gone wrong? Look at the commenter above you who is a "mens rights activist" who is STILL seething because I dare say I didn't want my little girl taken to a secluded bathroom by a volunteer man.

    There's a difference between voicing an opinion and being an asshole. A doctor calling a disable infant a "funny looking kid" is beyond disgusting.

    Why, I ask, if it's such a fine term, is there a need to use an acronym? If that's just a matter of calling a spade a spade, why not just say to a new mother's face that you, the DOCTOR, think her child is ugly?

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    As I read this my mind keeps going to the word funny. The term can mean laughable or strange. "That clown was funny but there was something funny about the way his assistant looked at the kids." FLK seems like a term to use when you want your nurses aware of the situation but you don't want to alarm the Mother. And, yes, it can also be used by A'holes in an inappropriate way. What term would you "Like" doctors to use that only nurses and not the family would hear and understand in that situation?

  • In reply to Michael Milligan:

    Has anyone ever told you you were "funny looking" and if so, did you take that to just mean they had concern for your atypical presentation?

    I'm sure what happened was someone probably used "FLK" successfully and then it just caught on. I really doubt FLK is taught in medical school or reflects the character of every person who is familiar with it. Rude or not, it appears to have been a useful tool in the past but the truth is out now what it means.

    What's wrong with MHDS (Might Have Down Syndrome) or ISS (I suspect something). Come on, it's not that hard to think of a million better things you could say than FLK.

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    In reply to MarkRVillano:

    I totally agree, Mark. "Me thinks the lady doth protest too much" seems to apply here. Acronyms between colleagues are not meant for the patient's ears, that's why they use acronyms. It's none of the patient's business, and shouldn't be shared with them.

  • In reply to John B:

    Of course you don't want patients to know what you're saying about them, you're talking crap about them in code right in front of their faces! This is no different than when hidden cameras catch nail stylists calling their clients pigs in their native language. Wait - yes it is different - in that you are talking about NEWBORNS with DISABILITIES.

    The secret is out and you should be absolutely ashamed. And to think doctors are so highly regarded while other professions are vilified. You make me sick.

  • Anyone who is on the PC bandwagon is offensive to me. Get over it or go play in the street.

  • I discussed this with my husband last night, and he said he had heard FLK a few times when he was doing his residency in Chicago but it's not heard here in Nevada. He also said funny is used in the context of "hey, something isn't right here. Not a perfectly healthy baby, we need pediatrics in here for a consult." So funny looking means, not right, abnormal, etc. It's not a way to make fun of or taunt the infant, it's a way to communicate to the nursing staff that something's not right and the usual protocol doesn't apply without scaring or offending the parents. Because what would be worse, saying "we have a FLK," or "this baby looks like it has downs syndrome and we need pediatrics in here STAT," in the first seconds after delivering? It might offend you now because you know what it means and are taking it out of context, but in the delivery room I think you might feel differently.

    Additionally, I think some of the acronyms are a defense mechanism that some doctors use to insulate themselves from burning out emotionally. It is an incredibly grueling job that they have, and I don't just mean the hours, years of training and hideous education expenses. They see and are intimately involved with terribly sick people and patients routinely die. I remember a few years ago my husband was on OB call the night before Thanksgiving and his last patient that night was a woman he had cared for her entire pregnancy and whom he had really grown fond of. At 36 weeks she stopped feeling the baby move and inexplicably it had died. She had been perfectly healthy, was thrilled to be pregnant with her first child, had been meticulous with her prenatal and self care, and yet the baby died. So early that morning she came in, he induced her and delivered her dead baby. Happy fucking Thanksgiving. Of course, undoubtedly, it was far, far more traumatic for the mother and family, but it is also traumatic for the doctor. He was incredibly shaken up by it and to say it but a damper on our Thanksgiving festivities is an understatement to say the least. The death and severe illnesses of babies and children always strike a bit deeper at the heart of doctors (in my experience) and the only way I think they can cope without having a full on emotional breakdown is to distance themselves, adopt a bit of macabre humor and move on.

    Lastly, he also said that the kinds of acronyms in your link are mostly commonly heard in the ER by doctors and nurses. Which makes sense to me. They often see some of the worst of the worst: abused children, fatal accidents, etc. and their patients are with them so briefly, so they are particularly emotionally distanced from them.

    I can't tell you not to be offended by it, but I genuinely believe it is not meant with malice and most doctors do truly care about their patients but have to find ways to cope with the incredible emotional toll the jib exacts on them. The money helps, too ;)

    Merry Christmas to you and yours! Hope Santa slips something sweet in your stocking.

  • In reply to code14j:

    Thank you for your insightful comment. Your take reminds me of how morticians have bizarre senses of humor - it's like a coping mechanism to deal with the fact you are cutting up dead people every day. Makes total sense!

    Also, that is really sad about the Thanksgiving baby. You never really think how the doc would feel. Your hubs sounds like a good man.

    Merry Christmas to you too!

    ETA - You were not wrong on the Morroccan oil.

  • First of all, FLK is a serious provisional assessment that triggers an extensive evaluation. Once the precise diagnosis is made, then that is the label.

    Second, 'clock a doc,' then go to jail and also get sued in civil court.

  • In reply to Steve:

    Don't give me this shit. Just because you may follow protocol with a suspected case doesn't make it less horrible that you just called a child "funny looking". It's not funny and running protocol is your job. Jerk.

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    25 years of practicing medicine, and I've never heard the term "FLK".

    I have heard of "GOMER's" (Get Outta My Emergency Room) reserved for bums, drunks, and drug-seekers,, and "FLB's" (Funny Little Beats) referencing abnormal EKG complexes,,, and "ARTing" (Assuming Room Temperature) referencing a dead body.

  • In reply to John Deaux:

    I'm very glad to hear that! And don't get me wrong, I can understand having a term for people who bug you - fully grown drunks etc. Some of the ones on that list were just funny. How can you offend a dead person when "assuming room temperature" is just a fact! Thanks for your comment.

  • Jenna,
    The semantics of your article ( entry) are what I believe your critics here are taking issue with. When you say "Doctors" instead of "One Doctor" or "Some Doctors," you have successfully created a sweeping generalization of that profession...with absolutely no supporting data! Hardly fair to a profession we all rely on. Sort of like saying "All cops beat Rodney King!" You might say "Well 'Doctors' should be held accountable!" What doctors? Your friend? Yes she should.

  • In reply to Michael B Thomas:

    It appears that most doctors on this thread are familiar with the term, whether or not they use it, so apparently it's part of the universal language that extends to all members of the profession.

    Are all doctors bad people? Of course not and I didn't say that. Do all doctors use a vocabulary that springs from a well that includes this horridly inappropriate term? It appears so.

    Part of the problem is the contrast between what we *think* doctors are like (halo-wearing lifesavers) and what a term like FLK reveals (insensitivity, cruelty, crassness). I'm sure the truth is somewhere in the middle, that doctors are not "above" the rest of the population and are fallible and human and even rude on occasion.

  • Usage of terms like "most" and phrases like "universal language that extends to all members of the profession" seem absolutely ridiculous given the absence of any supporting data and working from a sample size of three to five (how many doctors did you talk to?) out of...millions. That's simply not how educated people come to conclusions. As one person pointed out already, context is significant. You're right, you didn't "say" directly that all doctors were bad people, but again, your semantics were of the all-inclusive variety. You will, however, find that in my previous post I did not at any point take up for the morality of doctors writ large, because I can't - no one can, and that is exactly the point I have been trying to elaborate on here. I bet you wish I hadn't spotted this from the Tribune's page, sorry to be so contentious!

  • In reply to Michael B Thomas:

    I don't mind, you can be contentious all day. I have an issue with you nicking my premise with "that's not how educated people come to conclusions". I don't have to launch an million dollar investigative study to write a blog post on my observation - an observation which has been validated by the admissions of doctors.

    The truth is there is a wildly inappropriate term in the vernacular of physicians.

    Perhaps your own reading comprehension is lacking because I feel I left it pretty open in the post. Perhaps you stopped reading after the title. Sir, I will remind you that educated people withhold judgement until finishing an article.

    Lastly, I find it reprehensible that you are defending "FLK". I hope you're not an OB, Michael B. Thomas, because I'll be sure to steer clear as a patient lest I want my newborn called "funny looking".

  • The fact is I did read your whole blog entry, and at no point did it back away from the sweeping generalizations we're at odds about.

    No one said you had to launch a million dollar investigation to support your hypothesis - psychologists frequently operate on shoestring budgets and generate a large enough sample size to bear statistical relevance (thirty "at random" for a Z-test approximation of the normal distribution).

    "Sir I will remind you that educated people withhold judgment until finishing an article," and "I find it reprehensible that you are defending 'FLK'," are both clearly straw-man logical fallacies and indicate things that were never implied in my responses. I tell my students that in argument, you know you've managed to strike some sort of nerve or at the very least irritate your counterpart if they resort to these. I have expressed my point already, I believe: I can't speak to the morality of Doctors writ large, and don't believe that anyone can. That's obviously a two sided coin.

    It was not my intention to call you uneducated. What I was trying to say (without writing a thesis or manifesto!) is that your argument skipped some fundamental steps in the sequence of well-reasoned, logically-sound conclusions. You understand what logical fallacy is, I'm sure. I apologize if I came across as condescending.

  • In reply to Michael B Thomas:

    I disagree that I need a larger sample size than the audience of this blog (the Chicago Now community, The Tribune, my regular following and anyone else who happens by) to weigh in on an anecdotal claim.

    Thank you for commenting.

  • You do when you turn anecdote into assumption.

    Thank you for posting, I'm done.

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    How about just calling it what it is instead of calling the child ugly? Are they referring to people with Parkinson's as a Twitcher? maybe a woman with MS can be Hobbles, just seems unnecessary to me to insult people with medical problems especially when you work in the medical field. Going out of your way to be an asshole just doesn't seem like something anybody should find acceptable regardless of profession. But that's just me

  • In reply to Jay Bird:


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    I got sort of shocked to read this article, how arrogant MDs who love to use habitually those terms to describe such cases. How arrogant their usage or selection of words sounds! Do they belong to aristocratic soceity or counts or duke or Dame or Sir?
    In Japan, too, sadly to admit, doctors who harrasses patients or MDs who stick to earn finace whatever illegal access needed to achieve their set goal. Nurses, too, acts strangely, for example, who peels nails from senior citizens while very aged patients taking deep sleep like coma. (A bit like Adolf Hitler taste, isn't it?)Or, some abdct little kids just to ease their stress and pretends skillfully as if she acted out of insanity.
    (They know how-to). Some even claim to me, to secure marriage to rather wealthy person, blood bype matching and ovulation day arrangement, they regard them as fashionable techs to satisfy their hungry needs. WOW, maybe the comment to mine. Who supports or respect those attitude? Papal forgives them?

  • As a physician trained in Chicago, I have never heard that term FLK ...however as pointed out so eloquently in the comment by code14j..."Funny" (like so many words we all use) has more than one definition and meaning. :
    Definition of

    FUNNY (

    1. a : affording light mirth and laughter
    b : seeking or intended to amuse

    It just seems illogical to assume that the doctor, that may use the term FLK to alert the Nursing staff to summons Pediatrics for help based on his or her observation of the appearance of the newborn is using the word as defined above in Definition #1. No one is amused or laughing at that point, in fact, the doctor upon invoking the acronym FLK has indicated to the other professionals in the room just the opposite. By invoking the acronym he or she is in no way attempting to lighten the mood of the medical staff, rather he or she is alerting them that in the midst of the delivery and upon initial observation something about the baby does not appear normal or ordinary. Further investigation is warranted. I assure you as human being and a doctor there is nothing amusing, lighthearted or laughable about the doctors observation. SO DEFINITION #1 CAN NOT BE APPLIED (assuming you have common sense)

    So on to definition #2.....

    2. differing from the ordinary in a suspicious, perplexing, quaint, or eccentric way : peculiar —often used as a sentence modifier

    and BINGO!!! without any twisting, squeezing or headline and attention grabbing here we have it my dear Watson, what appears to be the perfectly logical and intended definition of the word "funny" as purportedly used by some doctors via acronym FLK (funny looking kid). As a doctor I have learned to pay attention when thing appear funny or out of the ordinary or just don't add up. It is a very rudimentary and basic hunch or observation that often leads me to the yet undefined medical issue. Trust me you want your doctor to take note of any thing "funny" and investigate. And that is no laughing matter!!!

    Perhaps prior to your personal scare, say if you roll back to some 1987 Indiana, as a juvenile your take on people with downs or other visibly noticeable differences were that they were "funny"(definition #1) looking kids. It appears that your viewpoint has progressed beyond that simple assessment. Your doctor friend ought to be a little ashamed because she assumed this acronym was an inside joke poking fun and that truly was internally perceived and accepted. No doubt there are other docs that believe as she did but for the reasons I stated above logic proves otherwise.

    Like any profession we have bad apples but the effort and delayed gratification that are built in to becoming a doctor weeds alot of that out ...again, not all. But for the most part you would have trouble finding a doctor who takes a lighthearted approach when it comes to delivering devastating medical info to their patients.

  • In reply to russkz:

    1. Despicable that you are defending this term
    2. See my comment above as well. When someone calls YOU or YOUR child "funny looking" let's see who you take it.

    I am beyond disgusted.

  • Thanks for your kind words .... do you always debate so eloquently?
    I was not defending anything rather shedding light on the fact that the English word "funny" has more than one definition depending on the context in which it is used. Clearly your take on the manner in which Funny is used is possible but there is another more logical take based on the entire context and the chain of events that follow its use.
    Have you never used the word "funny" in the context of suspicious or not ordinary? "Ya know my stomach felt a little funny after eating that pudding and then the next day I was so sick I could not hold any food down" Clearly not poking fun at my stomach....are you with me?

    I was simply attempting to open your eyes to your illogical take on this acronym.
    Mastering the English language can be tough, as it is not uncommon for the same word (in pronunciation and spelling) to have totally different definitions based simply upon the context in which it is used. You are essentially creating a controversy where there is none!!

    For example, if my first name is Dick and a friend of mine calls down the hall to me "hey Dick, you left your paper here" I will happily return to retrieve my paper and thank my friend for looking out for me. To others with in an ear shot of his voice who are unaware that my name is Dick, my friends statement may be interpreted as anything but friendly and that same phrase would be quite inflammatory and insulting, IF that were not my proper name. For the majority of the uncertain onlookers what ever concerns they may have had initially will immediately be cleared up based on my response and our interaction subsequent to his exclamation. I assume about 99% of the people will not require any explanation and will logically realize that my name is Dick and my friend was not being offensive or taunting me. Some in retrospect may even chuckle to themselves for jumping to the incorrect conclusion. However, in their defense without the knowing my name and out of context, it could go either way... and that is a fact .... Dick is either my name or an antagonising rude reference intended to insult.
    Now suppose one of those onlookers, despite witnessing the entire interaction, fails to or refuses to accept the obvious and most logical conclusion: Dick is my name and was not used or intended to be derogatory and my response was appreciative and not offended. And This onlooker proceeds to chastise my friend who he still believes summoned me in an offensive manner. Clearly he either missed the context or is unaware of the fact that Dick is also an actual name (mine). I would naturally politely thank him for his concern and inform him that Dick is my name and my friend was calling after me bc I forgot something of mine. Now should the onlooker persist after that and insist otherwise (as you seem to be doing here, BTW) I would have to wonder what his intentions were for refusing to accept the fact that "Dick" clearly is my proper name and not an insult.

    Poor shortsighted fellow and his illogical insistence is rather offensive and simple!!!

    and as for your #2. well if you call my child funny looking I would be offended but as for anyone else who calls my child "funny looking" depending on the context I will be either thankful or offended

  • In reply to russkz:

    Did you even read the definition you posted? "Affording laughter and amusement."

    I'm glad this thread has come about. Doctors, who sit on their thrones, are being revealed for the sometimes rude people they can be.

  • Although I am sure we are both about done... I do concur there are Docs who feel they are upon a throne and rude. And I do not disagree that some Docs may be unprofessional and insensitive and use rude acronyms(your friend is in that category, as she has used and witnessed others use the FLK acronym despite her belief that F (for funny) meant cause for laughter or amusing. That is despicable! I assure you that the majority of Docs that use that acronym would object to and find her take on what is meant by FLK intolerable. What is so amazing that you absolutely refuse to acknowledge and admit the fact that "funny" as defined in the dictionary has more than one definition. I listed both in my first post (even numbered them) and provided the link for verificatiion. I think you are coming across quite poorly when your last reply questions if I read the definiton I posted. ummm I did....and so I ask you did you even read the the DEFINITIONS (there were 2) I posted from an official dictionary. It defies logic and personal integrity for me to believe that you did not see the 2 definitions I posted. Your ridiculously insisting that funny has only one definiton will likely cause any intelligent readers of your blog to pack up and move on. In a last ditch effort to provide you some chance to appear intelligent....have you never had car problems and brought the car to a mechanic and when asked what is wrong with the car replied with something like " Well I am not sure but for the last week or so when I do this ..... the car makes this funny noise" I bet you have!!! And if so, neither you nor your mechanic, I am sure, used funny to mean amusing or laugh inducing! Quite amazingly funny as used here conjures up concern or suspicion and puts us on a general alert for possible trouble ahead. If you knew more details as to cause of noise one would use a more specific term but funny fits perfect here because for lack of other details or more refined asssesment all we know is this noise is not one that we have heard before and we do not know have a clue if it is related to concern aFor most of us, the ability to apply context to the manner in which funny was used to help describe the noise from the car happens sub conciously and quickly and the

  • In reply to russkz:

    Of course there is another definition of "funny". That is not in dispute. What the word "funny" means in this case, is what we are talking about. Doctors use it to be rude right in front of patients' faces. End of story, thank you for commenting.

  • While in Pharmacy school I did some interning at an inner city Walgreens Pharmacy and we had our own terms to describe certain customers who came in. “Crackie” was used for anyone who was coming in for drug addiction medication or who was obviously addicted to narcotics in one way or another. “Look at this crackie that just walked in the door”.”FOB” (fresh off the boat) was used to describe anyone with strong ethnicity that may have recently arrived in the U.S and didn’t speak proper English. “Leach” was a term for those on welfare or public aid who received hundreds if not thousands of dollars a month in medication while only having to pay a tiny co pay out of pocket. There were others that are too harsh to mention here but so what. These terms are just a part of life and exist in any profession; Dr’s aren’t any worse than anyone else when it comes to such things, no need to single them out for being human. Take a look at the list and you’ll see that many of the terms are used to describe other Dr’s. I doubt they take it very personally and neither should you.

  • In reply to Mr_windycityxxx:

    You are brilliant. Get this man a drink! The satire illustrates my point. Why not use the n-word for black people too!

  • F.L.M.I.L.F

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    I have just this morning found your blog. So far I'm loving it. I realize this is an old argument and everyone has probably moved on but, like I said I just found you this morning.
    My thoughts on this are, more than anything I would be hurt. So hurt. There would have to be another term that could be used. If my child had Down Syndrome and found out that ANYONE said that, even as an alert to the others in the room, it would be crushing. The things you have to deal with in that moment, realizing your baby is going to struggle their whole life, and then that is the first term used to describe them. I couldn't use that doctor ever again.

  • In reply to KimmieD:

    I'm glad you're here, Kimmie!

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    Oh. And to the really rude people on this thread....PEOPLE LIKE YOU ARE THE REASON WE HAVE MIDDLE FINGERS. Geez

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