Word (Acronym) of the Day: GSW

Acronym: GSW

Pronounced: Jee-ess-DUB-uhl-yew

Short for: gunshot wound

Usage: “We admitted a young male, single GSW to the head. Patient has only limited responsiveness and…yes? What?”

“You said GSW. What’s that?”

“Oh. Gunshot wound.”

“Right. So why don’t you just say ‘gunshot wound’? It’s shorter.”

“Because I’m a doctor. Now please be quiet or I’ll give you an IITB*.”

(*Injection in the Bum)


Having finished my very first Terry Pratchett book ever yesterday afternoon (Equal Rites… brilliant, laugh-out-loud funny; everlasting tearful Thank-yous to Ann’s daughter Helen for recommending it), I am now devouring the latest Lisa Gardner mystery, Live to Tell. In it, blonde bombshell detective (not actually a contradiction in terms, in a Lisa Gardner mystery, oddly enough) DD Warren and her partner are talking to a surgeon about their prime suspect, who has shot himself in the head (sustaining the aforementioned GSW) and survived.

The dialogue, as always, is brilliant and believable, but there’s something about using a W in an acronym that jars the senses. After all, isn’t the whole point of acronyms to make things shorter? Think ER (Emergency Room), DOA (Dead on Arrival) or NASA (Not Another Shuttle Accident!).

OMG, it’s LCROSS. Beam me up, Scotty!

In fact, NASA itself is an eye-popping source of acronyms all on its own: to name just a few, there’s ARCTAS (Arctic Research of the Composition of the Troposphere from Aircraft and Satellites), CALIPSO (Cloud-Aerosol Lidar and Infrared Pathfinder Satellite Observations) , LCROSS (Lunar CRater Observation and Sensing Satellite), and (deep breath) MESSENGER (MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry and Ranging). Seriously.  It all begs the question of whether NASA has an actual dedicated Acronym Action Team (AAT) or whether its publicists simply have TMTOTH (Too Much Time on Their Hands).

It should be noted that acronyms are not to be mistaken for mnemonics, which may look like acronyms but are typically verses or formulas intended to assist the memory. An excellent example is Every Good Boy Does Fine, or EGBDF, which are the notes on the lines in a treble clef and generally sound like a car accident when played in any order by a beginner violinist, usually prompting the long-suffering teacher to exclaim in reply, “Feck! Arse! Completely Execrable!”, or FACE, which represents the corresponding spaces in the treble clef. And thus is musical tradition passed down the generations.

Anyway, as usual, I digress.

My point here (and I do have one) is that acronyms are meant to condense a mouthful of words into something shorter and easier to say, in the interests of saving time and impressing those not in the know.

But when a double-you is added into the mix, the point is lost utterly. There’s the aforementioned GSW, there’s WMD (Weapons of Mass Destruction) (made famous by Dubya, no less), and, in the United States, DWI (Driving While an Idiot). OK, that last one is kind of shorter (and kind of made up), isn’t it? But you see my point.

Florentine, indeed. Get the buggy-whip, Ephraim…

Of course, there are a few other exceptions to the rule. An important one is WTF, which while not shorter than the original (“What the Florentine?”) will also save you a clout upside the head from your mum, unless she’s in the know. In which case, you’re really in for it.

Another is WD-40, which stands for “Water Displacement – 40th attempt” (I kid you not), and is the ubiquitous spray lubricant invented in the 50s by a really, really, really persistent guy named Norm Larsen.

The other is my all-time favourite, which I first heard as a kid on Emergency!. This was a hit TV series back in the 1970s  and featured the adventures of John Gage and Roy Desoto, who were paramedics with Los Angeles County Fire Department’s Station 51. It was utterly brilliant and terribly thrilling, and for me (indifferent as I was to the hunkiness of Roy & John) (come on, I was seven!), the biggest draw was that nary an episode went by without Dr Brackett turning urgently to nurse Dixie (really) McCall and growling manfully, “Nurse, start an IV with D5W.”

Dr Brackett, manful medical hunakasaurus maximus (MMHM).

As most of you know, IV is short for “intravenous,”  and, amazingly, this rapid-fire set of instructions did not ever lead (to my knowledge, anyway) to the staff accidentally piping a spray lubricant into the hapless patient. (More’s the pity, really: I imagine it has all sorts of untested medical uses: “Mr Fluffernutter, the bad news is Nurse Dixie put WD-40 in your IV by accident. The good news is that your knees will no longer creak when you bend down to get the paper. You can thank us later.”)

In all seriousness, however, D5W stands simply for “solution of five percent dextrose in water” (D=dextrose, 5… oh, you figure it out), and was (and still is) frequently used in emergency situations for patients who are at risk for high sodium levels or low blood sugar. Or just plain old garden-variety Death.

Anyway,  there you have it. Like it or not, and NASA notwithstanding, acronyms are a part of life (like sock-eating clothes dryers [SECDs] and teenagers who wear their pants so low on their hips that eventually they fall on their faces while walking to the subway [TWWTPSLOTHTETFOTFWWTTS].) (I saw this happen once; it was hilarious. I totally LOL’d.)

I’d go on, but alas,  for now, I must bid you adieu. The producers of Emergency and Star Wars are in urgent need of my writing skills for their next big blockbuster, featuring an intergalactic casualty department. In the opening scene, which I think is brilliant, the stumpy little robot is brought into Sick Bay in urgent condition:

Oh I say, R2…isn’t Dr Brackett lovely?

“OMG, it’s R2D2 with a GSW! Dixie, start an IV with WD-40, stat!”

“10-4, Dr. C3PO, M.D.”

” WTF? Oh no! It’s NASA on the line and they say R2 was KO’d by the LCROSS. They’re really sorry.”

” OK, NP [no problem].”

I can see a brilliant career unfolding here. But for now, G2G.

Smiter out. TTYL, everyone.


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