Say what?

Language. I’ve been thinking about this for the past few days ever since I finally figured out what people typing DX at a breast cancer forum meant. Care to give it a try? I’ll give you a clue. It has to do with cancer and it’s something that everyone gets at the start. Dose of Ecstasy..Deluxe treatment..Dream Extraction? While the mind bending drugs would have been nice, it actually stands for diagnosis. When I joined the forum I felt nervous to say hello and live up to previous introductions, half of which I could not interpret. A typical one reads “I was DX in January with IDC and had a MX and ANC. Currently I am in TAX 3 with horrible SEs and gonna have rads and hormones.” So I didn’t bother and just lurked.

Two weeks into being a member I deciphered some of the code. TAX meant Docetaxel, my chemo drug, and MX was mastectomy. This felt like an initiation ritual passed, a hazing survived. I started to become more confident to write on the forum and began with gentle commenting. I have only resorted to googling ANC which is still a toss up between Absolute Neutrophil Count or Axillary Node Clearance. I’m learning towards the latter from the context I’ve read it mentioned in. It’s definitely wasn’t my first brain jump which leaned towards the African National Congress, the political party in power in South Africa. Strangely though there is some intersection in my mind between these two acronyms. When I did some climate change work in Soweto and was visiting with activists there, my local friend Dudu took me to a meeting in a house one day. There I sat mostly in bewildered isolation as the activists present spoke to each other in a mix of Afrikaans, English and Zulu. I understood one word in 5 if I was lucky. Dudu told me it was a coded language that made it possible to exclude oppressors from comprehension during apartheid.

When I was confronted with this coded language of a new group I was becoming part of, it brought this old memory to mind. Not that the two struggles can be compared and by no means are non-cancer types apartheid-style nasties. But I felt it was a similar dynamic of a group of people outside the mainstream creating a language that identified them as a group. At first it felt a little bit exclusive to me but because I already felt a part of this group by manner of my DX, I didn’t walk away. I worked hard to understand through context (and Google) and repetition. The same way we learn to use any language I suppose. Now I feel I earned my stripes. I feel confident and proud to say “I got my DX in January with IDC in one boob and lymph nodes. I’m on TAX 2 and the SEs aren’t too bad. Will be getting rads and hormones.”

*For the uninitiated (and hopefully you will always be so)

DX: diagnosis
TAX: Docetaxel
FEC: combo of chemo drugs fluorouracil, epirubicin and cyclophosphamide
ANC: Axillary Node Clearance
MX: Mastectomy
IDC: Invasive Ductal Carcinoma
SE: side effects
WBC: White Blood Cell
rads: Radiotherapy

9 thoughts on “Say what?

  1. Sophie Michel

    Ah! Ah! It reminds me when I go onto some pregnancy forums where I don’t only have to get poor syntaxe posts but also have to understand some strange accronyms. Colin and I have figured out that DH refers to the husband, I think LO refers to the infant and TMI has something to do with poo but not sure what.
    Thanks for this little booklet even though I’m crossing all my fingers and praying all gods I can think of that I’ll never need it in any way x

  2. Heidi

    Yes, yes Sophie. I also experienced the same thing on those parent forums! Took me fricking ages to figure out that DD was Darling Daughter! So I guess it’s an internet short cut thing but adding the Darling to it kind of makes it a language thing too. xx

  3. Kamila

    Thanks Heidi-I remembered the time then you all went to South Africa-to me such a beautiful place… Loads of love MDH! (ha and what does That mean?!?)

  4. Karen

    Really fascinating post – the role of language in creating a sense of belonging and security in a group of people – so many interesting questions of who’s on the inside, who’s on the outside, and why? Sometimes it’s specifically intended to exclude people, and sometimes it excludes people by accident – but I suppose that it does really cement inclusion, once a person is on the inside. I think sometimes people get so used to their language that they forget it might be pretty obscure for other people. As an example, a friend was telling me that someone she knew from the new agey community nearby was saying that this book had been ‘demanifested’ – i.e. he’d lost it!

  5. Sokari

    Interesting how people create their own language and terminology not necessarily to exclude but to short cut conversations

  6. Heidi

    yeh I think both things are going on. maybe it starts out as a shortcut with very good reasons for it. this is especially true of internet based language just because of the need for quick typing. but eventually over time it does take on added meanings and can evolve to include/exclude people. I found the same dynamic in gaming and also on user generated news sites like reddit. the latter goes even further to use in jokes from previous content to identify users with more pedigree or commitment. very interesting…


    Yes, really language is always evolving and some of the specialist created words and phrases do get appropriated by mainstream eventually and then there are nouns which become verbs and adjectives etc. And we also adopt other languages into ours. Language is fascinating.

  8. Paula

    Wow, fascinating post about jargon-based networked discursivities. Code does create new realities, indeed.

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