Why Can No One Pronounce the Names of New Drugs?

One of the challenging aspects of a career in medicine is that every week you have to learn new nonsense words that have been invented to describe the latest products. 2013 has already brought us Osphena, Tafinlar, Procysbi, Sitavig, Breo Ellipta and Tecfidera, among many other tongue twisters. I have never been able to figure out how the companies that make these products get us all to pronounce them the same way so quickly. Marketing I suppose.

With older drugs, there is no one fighting for branding, so you can pretty much please yourself pronunciation-wise. One of my favorite examples is a constituent of the poppy plant: Thebaine. NFL Legend Roger Staubach asked “How do you spell relief?“. I ask “How do you say Thebaine?”. Some people say THE-BANE (of my existence?), others make it three syllables THEE-BAYE-IN (of the wolves?) or THE-BAY-INN (all rooms with an ocean view?).

Personally, I never pronounce the name of any drug first in a meeting because I am afraid how people will react if I get it wrong.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-based Community]

Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is a professor of psychiatry at Stanford University. He served as a senior policy advisor at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy from 2009 to 2010.