Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Fri Jul 27 02:12:01 UTC 2001

At 09:11 PM 7/26/2001 -0400, you wrote:
>My wife works in a small-city midwestern hospital.
>The term "gomer" in her work-culture is applied to
>"trailer trash"....lower-class white yokels with no
>jobs and/or medical insurance, who use the local
>emergency-room as their primary health-care service
>(even for minor wounds, most inflicted by other family-
>members, or through alcohol-abuse, or both).  "Gomer"
>in that usage is popularly said to be an acronym for
>"Get Out of My Emergency Room."

Of course the acronym etymology is highly dubious. Even in the 1978 JAF
article two widely-cited acronyms were quoted ("get out of my ER" and
"Grand Old Man of the ER"). RHHDAS states that they do not have early
attestation. Furthermore, the usual practice in medical acronym-formation
would favor retention of "of", i.e., "get out of my ER" > "GOOMER" (not
"GOMER") (cf. "loss of consciousness" > "LOC", "shortness of breath" >
"SOB", etc., etc.). ["Goomer" does exist as a variant however.]

It is interesting that "gomer" is used here where I would expect something
like "dirtball" -- i.e., repulsive lower-socioeconomic-class person or so.
In my experience, "gomer" refers to a hopeless elderly demented chronically
ill person. Diagnostic criteria sometimes 'humorously' used for "dirtballs"
("gomers" in Steve Hicks' message): (1) no money, (2) no phone, (3) no
teeth [it is assumed that the individual is in the age range where teeth
are expected]. Steve Hicks' "gomer" is more appropriate to the imperative
acronym; my "gomer" wouldn't understand the adjuration nor be able to comply.

There are of course several classes of patients who are frustrating and
undesirable, according to the lore:

(1) gomers [my definition], who require considerable attention, who will
never get well nor have an acceptable "quality of life", and who don't have
enough mental function to understand their condition;

(2) dirtballs (or Steve Hicks' gomers), who "have brought their ills upon
themselves" ... and also who have no insurance and no money and who will
never pay (!);

(3) related types such as degraded alcoholics and drug addicts and homeless

(4) "crocks" or hypochondriacs who don't really need any medical attention
but who demand it anyway;

(5) "drug seekers" who cite real or imaginary pains but who are primarily
looking for narcotics (for abuse or resale).

"Gomer", "dirtball" (and several synonyms), "crock", and "drug seeker" are
all race-neutral in my experience.

Possibly Steve Hicks' "gomer" has the original sense; this would be in line
with other (non-medical) uses of "gomer", = "indigen"/"yokel"/"gook" (see
RHHDAS which shows the spectrum "gomer"--"goomer"--"gooner"--"gooney"). The
alternative (IMHO) would be "gomer" < "gummer" ("old person without teeth",
also "grandmother", "old ewe", etc.). I don't like "gomer" <
"gomeral"/"gomerel"/"gomeril" or < "gomus" since I think these old words
were long obsolete before "gomer" appeared, in the milieu in question.

-- Doug Wilson

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