[Ads-l] Malpractice as a euphemism

George Thompson george.thompson at NYU.EDU
Mon Aug 8 02:56:39 UTC 2016

"Malpractice" was fairly commonly used in NYC newspapers of the latter 19th
century as a euphemism for "abortion".  I do not see that indicated in the
definitions or quotations for the word in the OED -- an entry revised
within living memory.  (I dare say that this sense is to be found elsewhere
besides NYC -- but as is well known, I believe that if it wasn't done in
NYC, they needn't have bothered.)

1a. Treatment given by a member of the medical profession that departs from
a generally accepted standard of practice and results in injury to the
patient, through negligence, ignorance, lack of skill, or malicious intent.
1b. More generally: incompetence, negligence, or unethical conduct on the
part of any professional person (esp. a lawyer), official, etc.

2. An illegal or improper act by a professional person or an official, esp.
one by which the position or office of the perpetrator is used to his or
her benefit at the cost of another; an abuse of position.

3.  gen. An improper or criminal act or practice; wrongdoing, misconduct,
or an example of this.

            MALPRACTICE MURDER IN THE FIFTEENTH WARD; Mysterious Marriage,
Death and Preparations for Funeral at Midnight. A Physician Makes a False
Certificate and the Body is Taken Out of the City. CAPT. NATANIEL R. MILLS
IN PURSUIT. Arrests by Coroner Wildey and the Police.

            A mysterious marriage and death, on Tuesday night and yesterday
morning, disclosed a startling case of malpractice which had occurred at
Dr. Grindle's private lying-in hospital, No. 6 Amity-place.  ***
            N-Y Times, September 28, 1865. p. 5

            A MYSTERIOUS CASE.   A Missing Daughter Found Dead in a Private
Lying-In Hospital -- The Case in the Hands of the Coroner.

            A rather singular case of death occurred yesterday morning, in
the private Lying-in Hospital of Dr. H. D. Grindle, at No. 6 Amity-place,
which is surrounded with considerable mystery and suspicion.  [Susannah
Lattin, 21, of Farmingdale, L. I.]   Neither Dr. Dorn nor Dr. Finnell
appear to have asked deceased any questions regarding her treatment in the
house before or since her confinement, and no one took the necessary steps
to have her statement taken down by the Coroner.  The postmortem:] death
resulted from inflammation of the womb, though [the doctors] were, of
course, unable to say whether such inflammation was the result of
malpractice or not.
            N-Y Times, August 29, 1868. p. 8  [Dr.
Grindle again.]

            AN UNEXPLAINED MYSTERY.  The Clark Malpractice Case --
Statement of Mrs. Dr. Miller.

            [coroner's investigation into the death of Mrs. Agnes M. Clark,
which is "supposed to have been caused by her own malpractice"; dies in the
office of "Mrs. Dr. Margaret A. Miller," 133 Clinton-place; Dr. Miller a
graduate of "The Eclectic College, No. 143 East Twenty-sixth-street]  Dr.
Cummings [of the Eclectic College, who "makes a specialty of such cases"]
had then informed me that the deceased had told him that she had resorted
to electric baths, drugs and instruments to produce an abortion.  ***  When
I wrote up the certificate I wrote the cause of death as peritonitis,
resulting from an abortion self-inflicted.  Mr. Christie [brother-in-law]
remarked that it was a very harsh word to use, and suggested that we use a
milder phrase for the sake of the family, so I inserted the word
"miscarriage" instead.  ***
            NY Times, March 9, 1871. p. 2

            The Butler-Newcomb Case.  How a Lawyer and Physician Got into
Trouble -- A Detective's Story.

            [a "malpractice" case; Washington J. Butler, the lawyer, said
to be the father of the fetus, gave the woman medicine; "a doctor",
unnamed, "performed the illegal operation"; Mooney & Boland investigate]  .
. . Mr. Boland interviewed the colored midwife, Sally Carey, who attended
the mother . . . during her confinement.  In order to obtain information
Mr. Mooney pretended that he wanted to get a young lady friend out of
trouble, and tried to find out all about the Gilmore case from the
midwife.  ***  She told him that she was experienced in the malpractice
business, and that the last case was that of Mrs. Gilmore, No. 487 Seventh
avenue.  ***  Mrs. Gilmore, the colored mother, at first denied to the
police surgeon that she had had a child, but afterward admitted the fact
and said that Butler was the father.  ***
            NY Herald, March 18, 1877, p. 12, col. 1  [Mooney & Boland were
a private detective agency]

"Mr. Mooney pretended that he wanted to get a young lady friend out of
OED, "trouble"
5b. Said of the condition of an unmarried woman with child.
1891    T. Hardy Tess II. xxxi. 125   On no account do you say a word of
your Bygone Trouble to him... Many a woman—some of the Highest in the
Land—have had a Trouble in their time.
1891    Daily News 26 Jan. 7/2   She said she consented to come to London
to be married to the prisoner as she believed she was in trouble.


George A. Thompson
The Guy Who Still Looks Stuff Up in Books.
Author of A Documentary History of "The African Theatre", Northwestern
Univ. Pr., 1998..

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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