The Language of Illness

Fergus Shanahan

An appeal for the use of clearer, more holistic language surrounding mental illness.
Publication date:
October 2020
Publisher :
Liberties Press
Format Available     Quantity Price
ISBN : 9781912589159

Dimensions : 229 X 152 mm
Available in 6-8 weeks


The practice of medicine has advanced dramatically in recent years, but the language used to discuss illness - by medical practitioners, patients and caregivers - has not kept pace. As a result, clinicians and, just as importantly, patients and their relatives and caregivers, are not able to communicate clearly in relation to illness. The upshot is misunderstanding and confusion on all sides.

In this groundbreaking book, Dr. Fergus Shanahan, an eminent gastroenterologist who has practiced in Ireland, the United States and Canada, and published widely around the world, looks at memoirs of illness, and outlines the lessons we can learn from a better understanding of the words we use to describe illness. He looks at the ways in which language can act as a barrier with regard to illness, and proposes practical ways in which we can dismantle these barriers. The book is written for the general reader: as Dr. Shanahan puts it himself, he is "enough of an expert to be wary of experts."

The Language of Illness, part manifesto, part memoir, and part instruction manual, is an appeal for the use of clearer, more holistic language, by all those involved with, and affected by, illness. Like the great American poet-doctor William Carlos Williams, he aims to help us develop a new language by means of which we can develop a new way of living with illness - which is an integral part of the human condition. Put simply, it is a book for all those who care about caring.

REVIEWS important book for any of us in the health business. A plea for the importance of language, that words matter.
Austin Duffy, consultant medical oncologist and author of Ten Days

Shanahan draws from many wells for this fascinating and beautifully written book. It is peppered with references to literary and artistic works as well as examples from his own experience.
The Irish Times

A scholarly yet accessible dissection of the toxic influence of language on medical care, this book should be mandatory reading for all healthcare professionals, and also for all patients and future patients.
Liam Farrell, medical journalist, former GP and author of Are You the F**king Doctor?

Beyond the carefully and elegantly constructed arguments, this book ovides a wonderful anthology of writing about life, health, dying and caring...It should be on the mandatory reading list for students of medicine, nursing and all caring professions, and will be of enormous interest to patients and their family members.
Professor John Crown, consultant medical oncologist at St Vincent's Private Hospital in Dublin impressive work that cuts through the dross of medical parlance and captures our everyday tragedies with compassion…
Prof. Garret A. Fitzgerald, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania

A fascinating and sensitive exploration of...‘illness language'...I recommend it strongly, not just to front-line medical personnel, but also to the rest of us who are, or will, sooner or later, be, ill.
Patrick Masterson, Emeritus Professor, University College Dublin

...clear, focused, and well written. Shanahan's theme is plainly an important one, and he does it justice from the outset...To his enormous credit, [he] does not avoid the more difficult topics: language at the end-of-life, the dangers of labels, and how certain terms can increase vulnerability. His discussion of the concept of ‘dignity' is especially interesting...Communication is still one of medicine's most powerful therapeutic tools. We should use it better. Shanahan tells us why and shows us how.
Brendan Kelly, Professor of Psychiatry at Trinity College Dublin and co-author of Psychiatrist in the Chair: The Official Biography of Anthony Clare (Merrion)

The Language of Illness is one of the most worthwhile books I've seen in medicine. It is wise, bright, witty, and brimming with insights...The epilogue, and its matching discussion earlier - not to mention the brief appearance by Madonna - is worth the price of admission on its own.
John Sotos, MD, author of The Physical Lincoln

It is wonderful to have the issue of language brought into the mainstream by a distinguished Irish physician, as he explains how well-intentioned medics sometimes fail to provide a better caring experience for their patients.
The Irish Times

To have a book that comprehensively observes doctoring with acute observations all the way through, based on a long medical career in direct patient care in clinical medicine combined with a stellar original science career in gastroenterology, is decidedly unusual. By birthright, this author joins the greats of Dublin medicine, even if claimed by Cork.
William P. Tormey, University of Ulster Coleraine

…a ‘must read' for all medical students and doctors in training, and for medical educators...warm, insightful and humorous.
Prof. Deirdre McGrath, Head of School, School of Medicine, University of Limerick

Absolutely delightful...Elegant, wears its considerable learning lightly….a classic addition to the literature.
Prof. Desmond O'Neill, Director of the National Office for Traffic Medicine

In a thought-provoking and engaging book, pitched at ‘anyone who cares about caring', Shanahan has drawn on his experience as a physician and father to a seriously ill son. He combines a rich selection of reflect on how the language we use shapes doctor-patient interactions [and] patient and carer experiences...a sweeping tour de force.
Dr Deirdre Bennett, Head of the Medical Education Unit in University College Cork

This book is a treasure, compulsory and compulsive reading for everyone in the caring way - and isn't that all of us?...An accessible, inviting book: warm, empathetic and deeply compassionate.
John F. Deane, poet, and founder of Poetry Ireland and the Dedalus Press

Stuffed full of treasure and wisdom...The chapter on the current pandemic - presumably a late addition - is brilliant.
Dame Iona Heath, former president of the Royal College of General Practitioners exercise in erudition that acquaints the reader with the often overlooked thoughts of medical authors, as well as providing the enlightening perspective on the doctor's lack of communicative skill as portrayed in the great works of literature... Fascinating...A tour de force.
Eoin O'Brien, author and clinical scientist