7 nursing slang terms I really wish would catch on

Blend Images | DreamPictures/VStock

Blend Images | DreamPictures/VStock

We all know “GOMER” and “circling the drain.” What we need, as a profession, is a plethora of new slang terms to replace some of the old, tired ones. Here, then, are my contributions.

Vulture Precautions: When that little old DNR patient is circling the drain, you put ’em on vulture precautions.

The Great Boston Molasses Tragedy: Back in 1919, a burst tank at a molasses factory in Boston led to a flood of sugary syrup that killed 21 people and devastated entire neighborhoods. It’s about time we reclaimed that phrase to describe the outcome of several enemas and a dose of Dulcolax.

Therapeutic CT (or X-Ray or EKG): When a patient has a neurological change or complains of chest pain, and the trouble resolves as soon as you scan them, they’ve had a therapeutic CT or therapeutic EKG.

The Titanic: A patient who’s going down, going down hard and going down irreversibly, but not without a certain amount of style.

A Full House: Slightly different from a “trainwreck,” this is a patient with multiple comorbidities, all semi-managed, and four pages of medications that they take on a regular basis. They may not be as sick as a trainwreck, but there’s a whole lot going on.

Barbie: Any female patient who applies a full face of makeup first thing every morning. Bonus Barbie points if she refuses an assessment until her makeup is finished.

RoboCop: A patient in the ICU who has more than two machines attached. An example would be the intubated, sedated patient with a ventricular assist device, continuous dialysis, warming blankets and a continuous passive motion machine.

What would you add to the list?!

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Agatha Lellis

Agatha Lellis is a nurse whose coffee is brought to her every morning by a chipmunk. Bluebirds help her to dress, and small woodland creatures sing her to sleep each night. She writes a monthly advice column, "Ask Aunt Agatha," here on Scrubs; you can send her questions to be answered at askauntieaggie@gmail.com.

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54 Responses to 7 nursing slang terms I really wish would catch on

  1. Jennifer Cummings

    For the patient who is “not all there”: “she’s only knitting with one catheter!” Or…
    Instead of “Bed head”: “Bedpan butt” from sitting on the blasted thing too long.

  2. emmy56rn

    This is interesting , we all use slang but a friend of mine just got a written warning for using slang regarding a trauma patient. She didn’t use the patients name or any other identification when she said this .She was reported by a director whose own staff I am sure also use it.She said the patient was a traumatic mess . Just saying we careful when you use these terms.

  3. Julies54

    Train wreck, FLK (funny looking kid), and PIA (pain in etc), mugger (grabby man), problem child, diva, and a PF(problem family).

    • mariebug924

      I like mugger. I’ve dealt with quite a few patients with grabby hands. I’ll have to remember that term in the future

  4. glennbo

    Code brown….for obvious reasons.

  5. Thumpet

    N F W is a most frequent one

  6. MrsShippy

    I am usually the one with the goriest gallows humor, but naming something after a tragedy where 21 people lost their lives is inappropriate to say the least.

    • musicayla

      But train wreck or Titanic is ok? That seems…a bit of a double standard…

  7. TVernonRN

    I find vulture precautions a little disturbing. Maybe it is because my passion is for geriatrics. How about angel precautions for obvious reasons?

    • k8rn8877

      I like to say they’re in line to kiss Jesus

      • Seaflite

        I always thought the vultures referred to here were friends and family waiting to swoop in and scoop up the near deceased worldly posessions, frequently while the person is still breathing.

    • boopboop

      In my unit, we often say that they are/have “called in a Jesus Consult” or “consulting Jesus.”

    • cherylray

      I took vulture precautions to refer to organ donation. In Pennsylvania they’re called CORE(Center for Organ Recovery and Education). When they hear someone circling the drain they swoop in like vultures.

    • sarbo1010

      We just always refer to it as a “Celestial discharge”

  8. Karen Price

    How about instead of BedHead- for those on a Vent- Vent Nest…

  9. bamaone1945

    When a patient was nearing his/her time, we always said they were “going to Chicago”.

  10. klcrn87

    One of my favorite expressions is “Sh*t happens” but sometimes that’s not appropriate language. When I was in nursing school the instructors always preached to use proper medical terminology so I came up with “Feces occurs” … the instructors weren’t very amused but really couldn’t say anything because I wasn’t using bad language and it was medically correct!!! By the time I finished the 2 1/2 years of school, “feces occurs” was a common phrase uttered in the halls of the hospital by students and staff alike!!

    • musicayla

      Haha I like that…definitely going to have to borrow that!

      • k8rn8877

        Kind of along the same line one of my co worker always used the phrase “poop in a group” instead of getting your “sh*t together”.

    • Granny27

      And the VERY proper terminology for “bull***t” is “bovine scat”. Still BS. 😀

  11. Pheebz777

    We use “Code Brown” around the ICU when you need more than 1 person to clean up a “crappy” mess. Also when you’ve got an IV pole stacked with IV pumps, we call it a “Christmas Tree!” lol

  12. missiel3554

    Whenever I have a dramatic patient come into the er I say they have been diagnosed with dss. Dying swan syndrome.

  13. Linda Jennings

    Working in L&D, “FLB” stands for funny looking baby, and in cardiology “FLB” stands for funny looking beat!

  14. Finch

    Love the Full House one! I use Major Malfunction to describe which one of their long list of diagnosis brought them to the hospital and then eventually to our ECF.

  15. Flo

    FITH – F***ed in the head. Usually in a personality issue or drug or mental health issues, but sometimes in relation to catastrophic brain scans.

  16. Myman224

    have to laugh or we are sunk

  17. roboRN

    Always liked “celestial transfer” for the DNR that passes. Have also heard “basement transfer”as well. Or permanent vacation, eternal sleep, and my personal fave: the dirt nap… Also have referred to my unit as “Shady Acres Pre-mortuary” when we have an over abundance of totals, full houses and trainwrecks living on borrowed time.

  18. SoozqRN

    My favorite is for the 90 something yr old with numerous problems is TMB…too many birthdays

  19. Kim R.

    I have a pediatric patient who has had C. Diff for several months. I’ve removed the diaper many times and the contents start moving slowly off the edge of the diaper, kind of like lava from a volcano…. We dubbed this one “poonami”…… After tsunami!

  20. Buckeye

    I called a doc one evening to get code status orders on a new patient. I asked if he could come over and talk to the family as the patient was admitted to the unit DND.He was quiet for a moment and then asked “what is DND”… I told him it was damn near dead, he liked it and said they should make that an official abbreviation.

  21. homenurse5

    Slippy butt syndrome vs skoochy butt syndrome…

  22. Granny27

    In my state, DNRs are a goldenrod colored paper, aka “Golden Ticket”.

    I’ve used DND many times, and its sister term…..DRT. (dead right there.)

    • boopboop

      We’ve had one that was PMDOA/PDOA. Pretty much/practically dead on arrival.

  23. rlp08

    My word I came up with is a “hot potato”, as in the keep ’em alive til 7:05, circling the drain type. It’s inevitable and you just don’t want it to happen on your shift, sad, but it happens.

  24. grammi52

    “tore up from the floor up” for a pt with multiple problems is my favorite!



  26. PTKNurse7

    I came up with “bladgitated”, for the correlation between your agitation level and your bladder fullness

  27. SicilianPrncss121468

    I Love SCRUBS MAG!!

    • Nurse369

      Wow.I guess none of you have ever been a patient in Critical Care.Never had a family member who was a traumatic mess?You’re all very fortunate.

      • sarbo1010

        this is called gallows humor and helps some of us cope with the sadness and trauma that can be nursing. It in no way reflects a lack of care and compassion. Don’t take it personally.

  28. Amfmedicrn

    PBABLO…pine box at bedside…lid open

    ART- assuming room temperature

    FTD- fixing to die

    DRT – dead right there

  29. Sadiedaisy3

    I am sorry but I find the slang for a persons death offensive. Maybe I am sensitive because I lost my 33 year old son recently to cancer but the thought of someone referring to his dying in slang is upsetting. I know we have to deal with stress that no one else can ever imagine but death should not be associated with slang in my opinion. I can’t imagine myself ever saying something like that when my patients die and many of them have.

    • Nurse369


    • pronurse

      I lost 7 family members in 6 weeks, including my mom. I don’t have a problem at all with celestial discharge. I think it is actually nicer than room 219 just died. Sometimes, I would say, at the desk or away from family, that the person went to the [ ] floor (fill in with one number higher than you have floors. Celestial is peaceful, makes me think of stars and the heavens beyond. I know you are grieving but sometimes things just hit us the wrong way. Sorry for your loss.

  30. meaRN

    Fidiot is my new name for some folks b/c idiot just isn’t enough and the f word is frowned upon so they are just fidiots.

    I also like DFO diagnosis for, “done fell out” as the family brings the pregnant pt in on Sunday at lunch time. They state, “we was at church gettin our praise on and when turnt around she had just done fell out!”

  31. NurseNonscence

    I admit these can be viewed as rude. Just terms used from a RN that has seen too many patients die

    MFC (measure for coffin) a patient who is going to expire soon

    747 coming in for a landing: newly admitted patient that is expected to expire soon

    Yoyo: that annoying patient that always seems to keep coming back again and again and again

  32. IDontSleep

    I firmly believe the word junk, or any form of it, should be acceptable in nursing documentation. Junky lung sounds, junky wound bed, junk between toes….and I think any other nurse reading that note would know exactly what the writer was describing.

  33. tedsbeds

    My former workplace was know as ” the stairway to heaven”

  34. lynda_34

    I worked in a hospital that was two stories. When someone died they were on the third floor.

  35. Nofengshui

    When a patient has had an incontinent bowl movement, I refer to them as “muddy”…

  36. Dlgoats

    KTB- kicked the bucket. I was working in a nursing home and during report, I was told that one of our patients had died, so I wrote beside the patient’s name “KTB”. One of the CNAs working with me was a nursing student. Right before shift change, she said that she had been trying all shift to figure out what KTB meant. When I told her, she just started laughing and said that she would have never figured that one out in a million years.