Reflect a little, just a little, next time you hear or use terms such as tight traps, bad back, subluxing shoulder, multiple myeloma or you’ll be on a slippery slope with that sciatica. These are all examples of alliteration. Alliteration is the use of similar sounds in the first consonant(s) in adjacent or nearly adjacent words. Along with rhyme, it is one of the best memory enhancers for written and spoken word.
We all know what Peter Piper pecked and have stumbled over the terrible tongue twister sea shells on the sea shore. Advertising gurus have used it with Coca Cola, Dunkin’ Donuts and Krispy Kreme, as did Walt Disney with Donald Duck and Micky Mouse. Oh and I so love the slinky slightly sexy feel of my new Lululemon T shirt.
Alliterative language is picked up from the age of 3 months (Hayes & Slater 2008). It’s everywhere – what was it about the bunsen burner that made it so memorable? Why do clinical case conferences sound so impressive and important? The percussive sounding consonants such as ‘p’,’b’ and ‘f’ are probably more memorable; in fact, there is an article in the British Medical Journal where the author pondered the puzzling profusion of the letter ‘p’ in medicine (Hayden 1999). Fractured femur has quite a ring about it too, especially if it’s in four places and it’s Fred’s femur.
Well that’s sort of interesting, but how is it useful to me in the clinic?
One of the many fields that Explain Pain draws upon is linguistics and memory. We seek strategies to make stories more sticky and retrievable in the learner’s brain. Activities that release hormones of happiness can be made more memorable, you can prescribe exercises to make you long and loose rather than tight and troubled and eventually your clients will be as good as gold and maybe even right as rain. Make sure you let your clients know that you provide tried and true techniques too.
It goes the other way too, into more DIM (danger in me) language. Degenerative disc disease is an alliterative disaster. Not only is it false (it’s not a disease, it’s more about age changes than degeneration), those who use the term are embedding danger. Bad back and subluxed spine are other terrible terms. We are talking about clinical wordplay here. It’s all about using with the mnemonic power of alliteration to enhance the supportive SIMs and destroy the damaging DIMs.
An intriguing research finding (Boers et al 2014) suggests that while alliterative mnemonic power exists without awareness, it is enhanced when learners are aware of it. Perhaps we could get clients to play with alliteration – healing hips, mending malleoli, ripper reflexes and lovely, lean loins.
Word play could be a missing element of pain treatment, for some. The last blog on rhyme touched on this, as will next week’s blog on aesthetic language. Essentially, while the brain might have some sensitivity to metaphor, rhyme, rhythm and alliteration, it’s the context of the language which gives it power – things such as personal relevance, timing, familiarity and congruence.
Please share your greatest alliterative gems. I hope this post has nourished your neurones, greased your glials and make your dendrites dance.
Hayden GF 1999 British Medical Journal 319 (7225) 1605-8
Hayes RA, Slater A 2008 Infant Behaviour and Development 31:1: 153-156
On wordplay – Benczes R 2013 Metaphor and Symbol 28: 167-184