No to Howard Roark

July 20, 2011 § 2 Comments

Yesterday, I ran into a bit of hospital promotion that left me amused, but also confused. This anecdote is set against the backdrop of the release of the US News & World Report Hospital Rankings, which has joyously ranked MGH at #2 of the honor roll hospitals and Brigham at #8 (two Partners hospitals in the top 10! new record! two top 10 hospitals in the same city! oh my! and so on), and Children’s Hospital of Boston at #1 for peditaric centers, which naturally paved the way for this kind of subtlety:

yeah.

I’m a health management intern at MGH this summer, and so I take the Brigham-MGH shuttle to and from work every day. It’s about a half hour commute, and I spend it reading the House of God, which has been doing a great job of keeping it real. Which brings us to yesterday.

I came home from MGH, and cut through the Brigham as I always do, to exit through its back door and on to the HMS quad. It was then that I noticed that written on a large plasma screen was BRIGHAM IS A GOOD CITIZEN IN THE COMMUNITY.

At first I thought, Peter Bent Brigham? Like from the 1800s? Random. Then I grew sensible, and a bit conflicted.

Linguistics friends, does this sentence work? Can a hospital be a good citizen? I’m doubtful. Yet the reverse is true at times. I could say my mom is a pillar of strength, even though she’s not really supporting our roof (actually she might not object to that either…), or that she’s a foundation of support (but that’s stretching it, yeah?). But could I call my mother a good edifice in the community, or a famous tertiary care hospital serving millions? Not unless I was Vladimir Nabokov and being generally ridiculous, but brilliant. But even then.

I want to have a word with Brigham’s PR guy and question the merit of that bit of promotion. And yet I kind of prefer Brigham’s quiet restating of its mission over Children’s’ flashiness, just next door.

Ah! I just realized that my anthropomorphism of these hospitals lends credence to their PR campaign and undermines my whole argument. Dammit.

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§ 2 Responses to No to Howard Roark

  • Samyukta says:

    I should’ve consulted with you first, shouldn’t I have?.

  • desigonzalez says:

    Samyukta–I think you know the perils of asking your “linguistics friends” their advice on just about anything language-related. Hold on a minute while I get on my linguistics soapbox. Well, my first obnoxious comment is that linguistics aims to describe how language is used, not how it should be used. (The blog Motivated Grammar does a pretty good job at that: http://motivatedgrammar.wordpress.com/). But secondly, I think it totally works. With “pillar of strength” and the like, you’re talking about metaphors that have become idioms and almost cliches. Calling your mother a good edifice in the community doesn’t sound right because, even though a pillar may be a part of an edifice, it doesn’t have the same connotations of support–in the context of the metaphor, emotional rather than physical. I think Brigham as a good citizen works because of the image that the hospital is trying to convey, one of compassion and community.

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