Diagnose an illness

A colleague reminds me of the widespread misuse of “diagnose.” As he points out, illnesses are diagnosed, not people. Theodore H. Bernstein in “The Careful Writer” and John Bremner in “Words on Words” write about this common misuse. My colleague and the esteemed language experts might find fault with this small headline on today’s front page: Often-sued doctor still may diagnose patients.

Here is the offending structure as it usually appears in print: The boy was diagnosed with Tourette syndrome.

If we are going to follow the example of Bernstein and Bremner, we would write: Tourette syndrome was diagnosed in the boy. Or, to make a stronger active voice sentence, After tests on the boy, the doctor diagnosed Tourette syndrome.

I think this may be one of those cases where the horse is out of the barn and running through the field. The usage occurs so often that it rarely offends any longer. I myself read right over “diagnose” all the time.

This article was originally posted by the Raleigh News & Observer, a subsidiary of The McClatchy Co.; is posted here to provide continuity; and is copyright © 2011 The News & Observer Publishing Company, which reserves the right to remove this post.