Wednesday, August 15, 2012

What's a sontimeter?


During my first year of medical student, we had this radiologist who lectured to us once a week. He kept talking about things being "2 sontimeters" long or whatever, and I had no idea what he was talking about. By the time I realized a sontimeter was the same as a centimeter, the semester was over.

On an informal survey of physicians, when asked how to pronounce the word "centimeter":


I still don't get it. Why do some doctors insist on pronouncing it "sontimeter"?

Note: Thanks to Dr. Grumpy for inspiration on the cartoon

28 comments:

  1. My guess would be that it comes from the French pronunciation. At least round here, I'd think someone pronouncing cm as sontimeter was either French, had spent a lot of time in a French speaking country or was trying to be posh by using the French pronunciation...
    But that might not be the reason people do that in America.

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  2. I remember the first time I heard this, and my reaction was the same as yours---"wha?!"

    In my long ago and far away days as an ICU nurse, this was the only way it was ever pronounced, so these days, I still use the dreaded "sontimeter". Old habits die hard.

    Thanks for the funny post!

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  3. I sometimes follow your blog/never comment...
    I think this is something ALL med students share in the first year of med school. I think it's just to be pretentious personally

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    1. Unless you trained/grew up abroad....

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  4. I had a prof who pronounced dilantin "D-lah-ten" in kinetics. I knew what Dilantin was. No freaking idea what delaten was. I figured it was something I hadn't learned yet. All over my notes for that week, I have the word delaten.

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  5. sontimter avoids the extra pharyngeal contraction and unpleasant nasal tone of centimeter. like that dilaantin business.

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  6. I thought sontimeter was only used when using ultrasound. From what I understand, 1 sm = 1 cm, but sonto is the correct term because an ultrasound is technically a sonogram. Or maybe I just speak baloney.

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    1. It is definitely NOT only used with ultrasound.

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    2. That is not even remotely true in any way.

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    3. And an urban legend is Born!!!!!!

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  7. In Australia all the older do tots say it that way, but only in medical contexts. (we use metric and say it the usual way the rest of the time) psychiatrists here also say "trays" when they mean traits"

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  8. It's the same annoyance as people who pronounce "nuclear" incorrectly as "nucular." Even one of our presidents did that regularly. Geez.

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  9. For the same reason some people say "dilatation" and insist on the spelling "aetiology" and "foetus" (and other examples that I am sadly drawing blanks on at this time) -- they are pretentious pricks.

    It took me 3months of med school lectures to figure out what a "sonnameter" was.

    (and haha @Officer Cynical)

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    1. Yeah, what is the difference between dilatation and dilation?

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  10. I had a lecturer in college used to say pro-t-ans to refer to proteins....

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  11. I grew up in and went to veterinary school in Philly. Imagine my class' reaction when we had a guest lecturer from Canada show up one day to lecture us about small ruminant reproduction. She starts talking about how the cervix of the yo, and blah blah, and we're like, "yo, whattya talkin' about lady?"

    My notes from that day (10/9/98 and OMG I am old and OMG I am OCD because why do I still have these?) actually include the line "the cervix is the interesting thing about the yo (eh?); in the cow, it is easy to get into the uterus with an insemination pipette - OH, she means EWE when she says yo!"

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  12. Perhaps that pronunciation of 'centimeter' is related to 'centime', a coin something like a penny (a hundredth of the main currency unit) in many French-speaking countries. 'Centime' is pronounced 'son-teem'...

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  13. THANK YOU. The first time one of my (otherwise very intelligent) nursing instructors said SONTimeter, I think my head exploded a little bit.

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  14. One of the surgeons at my school never fails to say "sontimeter", but he did most of his training here apart from an HBP fellowship in Florida. It's not the only weird pronunciation he uses either. He says "saline" as "say-line", rhyming with "byline". So, in a talk about pancreatitis, he might mention giving lots of fluid maintenance, say 300 cubic sontimeters of normal say-line.

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  15. I always thought it sounded pretentious when med lecturers used the term "sontimeters". I was fortunate enough to understand what they meant right away, though, as I speak French and the pronounciation of "centimetre" is similar to "sontimeter". It's still ridiculous though.

    Fortunately, I've since moved to the West Coast and have never encountered this problem here :)

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  16. If I remember correctly, in one of Isaac Asimov's science books, he condemns people who do this as silly, and recommends they be "corrected" by pronouncing it "sontimetRUH" back at them (centimetRE).

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  17. One of the nurses at work does this, and I want to smack her every time she does it. "The resident has a three sonomer bruise". The first few times she said that to me, I had no idea what she was talking about, so I finally asked her for clarification. "Oh, you mean a three CENTIMETER bruise." To which she replied "isn't that what I just said??" No. It's not. You are missing at least two important letters in your pronunciation.

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  18. I am so glad that I'm not alone. It took me forever to figure out the docs I worked with meant centimeter. I kept thinking it was some vital new measurement that I somehow missed learning about that of course branded me as an idiot!
    On another funny note, I had a doc who pronounced platelets as plate-te-lets. Never fails to give me a chuckle.

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  19. My annoyance: (I had to get used to sm because everybody here says it that way and it drives me up the wall) - respitory instead of respiratory. Seriously, we all mumble enough as is, why swallow MORE syllables? Or is it sylbles now? Argh.

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  20. I'm going to have a kwasant and think about it...

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