How Webster’s Editors Removed “CURE” From the Dictionary

WebstersMedicalDictionary-f-Cure-fThis story is fictional. However, it is based on facts, and the facts are clear.

The word ‘cure’ does not exist in Webster’s New World Medical Dictionary, Third Edition. As you can see in the image, the definitions for C, leap from CULTURE, over ‘cure’, ‘cures’, ‘cured’, and ‘curable’, to CURETTAGE.

I don’t know how it happened. I suspect that if we ask Webster’s, their publicity team will offer an official ‘no comment’.

However, I do have an active imagination, and I have done a ton of research into the word ‘cure’. It’s not hard to imagine how the word ‘cure’ might have disappeared from Webster’s.  I can see at least three possible scenarios.

Intentional

Maybe it was intentional. Maybe it was done after due diligence, after much discussion, perhaps even with dissent and regret. I have researched the word cure extensively, and I can imagine some of the discussions that might have taken place.  Let’s listen in on a hypothetical meeting of the editors.

Manager: Well Joe, your job is to produce the definition for ‘cure’. What have you got for us.

Joe: We can’t put cure in a medical dictionary. Cure doesn’t make sense in a medical dictionary.

Manager (incredulous): You can’t be serious Joe.  This is a joke, right?

Joe: No, actually, I’m very serious.  Cure is not defined in medicine.

Editor 2: That can’t be true.  Have you checked the MERCK Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy? Have you checked Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine, and Lange’s Current Medical Diagnosis and Treatment?

Joe: Yes actually. I’ve checked all of them. Not one contains a definition of the word cure, much less a useful definition. They seldom use the word cure, and when it is used, it is not used consistently. I’ve even checked several editions of MERCK, back to the 1950s.  Cure is not defined in medicine.

Editor 3: Well, cure is defined in the standard Webster’s dictionary.  Why don’t we just use that definition?

Joe: That’s part of the problem. The current definition of ‘cure’ in our main dictionary, is seriously flawed.  I’m surprised that no-one has noticed it before.  There are several definitions. The worse example is perhaps “the act of making someone healthy again after an illness“. Eg. first, you remove the illness – then you cure them? It’s simply nonsense. Another entry says “something (such as a drug or medical treatment) that stops a disease and makes someone healthy again“. It’s wrong on so many levels.  Drugs and medical treatments do not stop ‘disease’, they treat illness, usually they treat symptoms of illness.  Every doctor understands the difference between illness – which exists in patients, and disease – which only exists in reference books. Illness can be cured. A disease is a general term, covering a wide variety of cases. Also, drugs don’t ‘make the patient healthy again‘.  It’s complicated mumbo-jumbo, simplistic nonsense.

Editor 3: Well, what about Merriam-Webster’s Medical Desk Dictionary?

Joe: Yes, our medical desk dictionary has a definition of cure. It has quite a few definitions actually.  That’s part of the problem. According to our current Medical Desk Dictionary, almost anything could be a cure. For example, it says ‘a course or period of treatment designed to interrupt an addiction or compulsive habit or to improve general health‘. Thus, anything, any treatment designed to improve general health – is a cure. At the same time, it says ‘to restore to health‘, which implies that all illness is gone, not just the illness being treated. And it makes simple errors, that no medical reference should make, stating, for example that ‘quinine is a cure for malaria‘.

Manager: Well, maybe we could change it to ‘ascorbic acid is a cure for scurvy‘ instead?

Joe: You are not a doctor, and I’m not either, but I’ve checked the books on this one. If you check MERCK, and Lange’s and Harrision’s medical recommendations, you will not find a cure for scurvy. They each recommend ascrobic acid as a treatment for scurvy, but not one claims it is a ‘cure’.  And frankly, it is not.  Ascorbic acid is a useful treatment for severe scurvy symptoms. But if that’s the only the treatment you give the patient, you will create chronic-scurvy, requiring continual medication with ascorbic acid.  You will be helping the patient to ‘live with their disease‘, not to cure it.

Editor 4 (the new intern): Why can’t we just do the research and write a definition of ‘cure’ that actually makes sense?

Manager: We don’t do that. Dictionaries don’t create language.  We document current usage. We’re writing a medical dictionary, that must reflect current medical thought, not attempt to lead it.  We are editors, not doctors, not scientists. Surely there are useful definitions of cure out there?  What about other medical dictionaries? Stedman’s? Mosbey’s?  Have you checked those?

Joe: Yes.  And no, they do not have useful definitions of cure. They have definitions that are at best simplistic, at worst, simply wrong.  Stedman’s says ‘a special method or course of treatment’.  Duh. Any treatment, any action, could claim to be a ‘special method or course of treatment’.  There is simply no requirement, in Stedman’s definition, for a cure to actually cure.  Mosbey’s suggests ‘the favorable outcome of a treatment of a disease or disorder’. Again, there is no requirement for a cure to cure.  An treatment might have a favorable outcome, without curing, without any intention or requirement to cure.

Editor 1 (Trying to be helpful): What about books? There are dozens, probably hundreds of books about cures.  Surely they have a working definition of cure?

Joe: I’ve checked.  I’ve looked at dozens of books with ‘cure’ in the title.  I have not yet found a single one that has ‘cure’ in the index.  I’ve not found a single one that actually defines cure. Even homeopathy reference books, with their philosophy of ‘like cures like’, never actually define ‘cure’. If you don’t define cure, the bar is set low enough that any treatment can claim to cure. Perhaps that’s why there are so many alternative medicines?

Editor 2: What about the charities? The American Cancer Society raises funds for a cure.  The American Heart Association raises funds to cure heart disease. The Arthritis Foundation raises funds for a cure.  Surely they have a definition for cure?

Joe: Actually, that’s not true, it’s a  marketing myth. The American Cancer Society (ACS) wants you to ‘join the fight against cancer’, and claim to have spent 4 billion dollars to ‘find cures‘ for cancer. But cure is not defined on their webpage, so they cannot provide a single instance of a cure they have ‘found’. The research projects they fund search for ‘treatments’, and do not define cure, cures, nor test for cured. Instead cancer researchers measure ‘cure-rate’, a scientific sounding mathematical term for ‘wait and see’. ACS discusses treatments, and side effects, but there is no discussion of ‘cures’. The American Heart Association operates under the assumption that heart disease is incurable. Their latest fundraising campaign is titled “You’re the Cure“. eg. Cure is not defined, so we can re-define it to raise money.   Their mission is ‘Our mission is to build healthier lives, free of cardiovascular diseases and stroke.‘ The word cure is not used. The Arthritis Foundation raises funds with the slogan ‘Walk for the Cure‘, while their website clearly states ‘Osteoarthritis is a chronic (long-term) disease. There is no cure‘, and ‘While there’s no cure for RA…‘ and ‘Unfortunately, there is no cure for juvenile arthritis‘. They do not define cure, instead resort to ‘incurable, suggesting that patients should be ‘Living with Arthritis’. The word ‘cure’ is useful for fundraising, but not useful in the actual practice of medicine.

Editor 6 (the old hand who loves obscure puns, and references to Lewis Carroll): “Cure-iouser and cure-iouser!” So, cures have disappeared.  Maybe they never really existed – except to be used to justify Sainthood?

Joe: Funny you should mention that.  The only place I have found so far that actually tests for cures is Loudres. They are very official about it, and very scientific. But they only accept and test for ‘miracle cures’.  Cures that cannot be accomplished by other medical treatments.

Editor 4 (the new intern again, laughing): Does that mean no cures are possible, because cure is not defined?

Joe: No. I’m not saying that.  Cures do exist. Penicillin does cure bacterial infections like pneumonia, in many cases. Anti-fungal medicines cure fungal infections, by killing the parasite. Healing is also a cure, a powerful cure – although not one you can patent and put in a bottle. But, maybe you’ve noticed how many illnesses, lately, have become incurable? Many illnesses that were previously cured, are now judged to be incurable. If you look closer, you can see that every illness caused by unhealthiness, every illness not caused by a parasite, is judged to be incurable – according to current definitions of cure. If curing an illness can only be accomplished by improving health – there is no cure.

Joe continues: But, it’s not a joke.  Most medical reference books no longer use the word cure.  Fundraising organizations avoid use of the word cure – perhaps they know that finding a real cure would put them out of business, or at the very least, change their business beyond recognition.

Editor 4: So does that mean alternative medicines cannot cure better than conventional medicines – because neither can actually cure?

Joe: Most medicines – alternative, conventional, Chinese, Ayruvedic, homeopathic, you name it, simply do not cure.  The vast majority of medicines sold today treat symptoms, and make no claim to cure. It’s a contest to see which can ‘not cure’ the best. That’s why placebos do so well.  Placebos seldom cure – and when they do, we don’t give them credit.  But many placebos can ‘not cure‘ just as well as many medicines.

Manager: Surely someone has created a useful definition of cure?

Joe: Actually no.  And the proof is trivial.

Manager: You can prove no-one has created a correct definition of cure?  How?

Joe: A scientific definition of cure would be something like ‘an action that stops the progress of an illness by addressing the cause‘. It’s simply not possible to cure, unless you address the cause of the illness. But, not one of the current definitions of cure, mentions the cause of the illness.

Editor 4 (the new intern): Well then, why don’t we just use that definition?

Manager (irritated): I’ve already explained that. dictionaries, dictionary editors, can’t create language, we report on language usage. Until some medical authority publishes that definition – we cannot report on it as a component of the medical lexicon.

Joe: Well then, we shouldn’t put cure in a medical dictionary. Modern medicine does not define the word cure scientifically, and does not use it consistently. And we certainly can’t put that in our dictionary.

Manager: OK.  Cure is out. While we’re at it, we’d better remove ‘incurable’ as well.  It wouldn’t make sense to have incurable in a dictionary that does not define ‘cure’. What word is next?

Note: Webster’s New World Medical Dictionary, Third Edition does not contain a definition for ‘cure’, nor for ‘incurable’either. The definition of ‘health’ in the print and online versions are identical, both simply quote the definition created by the World Health Organization in 1949, which is sadly political, not scientific, and sadly out of date. Healthicine, the study of health is not a word in any dictionary.

Editor 4 (the new intern, as an aside to Joe): “Do you think anyone will notice?”

== That’s the story I’d like to believe, that CURE was removed from the medical dictionary, because medicine does not take cures seriously, but I doubt it’s true ===

==== Maybe something else happened, maybe it was an ====

Undercover Rogue Editor

Maybe an undercover rogue editor got access to the dictionary computer files and simply removed the word cure, and nobody noticed. This seems preposterous, but, in favor of this scenario, we might note that the online version, at MedicineNet.com, has definitions for cure, and curable, and incurable. Maybe a rogue editor deleted them, and they have been restored. Actually, they haven’t been ‘restored’, they have been re-defined. The new definitions are not useful from a scientific perspective, perhaps just good enough for a dictionary entry. This prompts the question: “Is the ‘online version’ actually an on-line version of the Webster’s publication?”  The answer is Maybe yes.  Maybe no.

Yes. The word ‘curettage’ in the online version appears to exactly match the text in the printed edition. But, no. The word ‘cultural evolution’, which, in the print edition, is just before the locations where ‘cure’ should appear does not exist in the on-line version. It’s a mystery, but clearly not a miracle.

Why would an undercover rogue editor want to remove ‘cure’ from the dictionary?

Maybe it was someone suffering from an illness judged to be incurable. No illness can be proven incurable, but today’s modern medicine simply  ignores any search for cures with many diseases. Maybe someone wanted to bring attention to the fact that most medicines are designed to treat symptoms, and make no attempt to cure? Maybe we don’t know what we’ve got, till it’s gone, and we cannot learn to understand cure, until we remove it from the current medical dictionary, and only put it back when we understand?

==== There is another alternative, maybe it was a simple mistake ? ====

Incompetence

Maybe it just disappeared by accident?  Maybe ‘cultural evolution’ was inserted in the place of ‘cure’, by accident, and nobody noticed until after it was printed. Does cultural evolution belong in a medical dictionary? In my opinion, not.

Maybe nobody noticed until I saw it myself? Maybe, as often happens in situations of incompetence, nobody actually knows how it happened. Whatever it was, it happened several years ago.

However, this explanation has a serious flaw. If it was just an accident, how did the accident also manage to remove ‘incurable’ from the dictionary?

============  We need a science of healthicine =============

We need a science of healthicine, that takes the words health, and cures seriously.  Today’s medicine is not a science it is simply commerce, a search for products that can be patented and sold at inflated prices. Frankly, modern medicine needs to be cured.

to your health, to your cures, tracy

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About Tracy Kolenchuk

Founder of Healthicine.org. Author of two books about healthicine;
Healthicine: The Arts and Sciences of Health and Healthiness
Healthicine: Introduction to Healthicine

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