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In spite of many references on the correct usage of ”Diagnose”, usage of passive construction followed by a with-phrase – e.g. “The patient was diagnosed with cancer” — and usage of patient as object of this verb –e.g. “She helped with his story to raise awareness about Chiari, especially so doctor could diagnoses its victims earlier” are what I find in today’s media.

So, I am start to wonder : Is the correct usage of ”Diagnose” losing its ground ?

Correct usage (as being sescribed )

From Bryan A. Garner's Garner's Modern American Usage 2nd Ed.

to identify, esp. a disease or problem. Strictly speaking, it is the disease or problem that is diagnosed, e.g.: "Eichelman went to the doctor, who didn't diagnose the broken bone and told the swimmer he would be back in the pool in a few days." Jason L. Young, "Senior Is Eager to Make Up for Lost Season," Indianapolis Star, 7 Dec. 2002, at S4.

From R.W Burchfield's The New Fowler's Modern English Usage 3rd Ed.

Properly used to mean 'to make a diagnosis of (a disease, a mechanical fault, etc.)' (he was able to diagnose the fault at once), but now often used with a person as object (a baby who was incorrectly diagnosed as having died before birth, only to be delivered alive, but paralysed, 17 hours later-T. Stuttaford, 1990).

Defination from dictionaries :

Oxford English Dictionary 2nd Ed.

To make a diagnosis of (a disease), to distinguish and determine its nature from its symptoms; to recognize and identify by careful observation.

Shorter Oxford English Dictionary 6th Ed.

1.Make a diagnosis of, infer the presence of (a particular disease etc.) from symptoms. 2.Ascertain the condition of (a person etc.) by diagnosis. E20.

Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary 3rd Ed.

to recognize and name the exact character of a disease or a problem, by examining it_

Concise Oxford English Dictionary 11th Ed.

make a diagnosis of (an illness or other problem). identify the medical condition of (someone)_

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Can you be more specific about what the "correct" usage of diagnose is? Maybe an example? –  Kosmonaut Jan 26 '11 at 4:02
Kosmonat - As you requested –  Mr.X Jan 26 '11 at 4:22
I'm not going to close this question because I think it is interesting and borderline, but the questioner might want to consider whether this question is really just peeving about grammar disguised as a question, which is off topic here. meta.english.stackexchange.com/questions/273/… –  nohat Jan 27 '11 at 9:41
I don't think that, fundamentally, this question is substantively different from "I hate it when people misuse the word 'diagnose' and I notice it happening all the time now. Don't you hate that too?" –  nohat Jan 27 '11 at 9:45

3 Answers 3

Like many words, "diagnose" has acquired a new sense. The use of this sense has risen rapidly over the past 40 years. Here is a Google ngram graph comparing “diagnosed with” (the contested usage) with “diagnosed as” since 1970:

Google ngram image of "diagnose with" and "diagnose as" since 1900

The objected-to usage has experienced a dramatic rise and the traditional usage has been experiencing a steady decline since 1985. It seems the new sense is rapidly eclipsing the old one.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary of English Usage provides justification for the usage:

Lurie 1927 disapproves of using the verb diagnose with a person as its object, even though there is often no other way of avoiding a stilted sentence. Several other more recent complaints have been lodged against this use, but not all of the commentary has been negative. Evans 1962 gives his approval: “there is bitter wisdom int he popular usage, for a man and his sickness ar one.… It is a soothing fiction that the man “has” the malady; too often the malady has him.”

Because this use sounds very familiar in spite of the fact that we have only a relatively small amount of evidence for it in our files, we believe that it is more frequently found in speech than in writing. However, the usefulness of this sense of diagnose is manifest, and its use in writing may well increase.

… the women… have diagnosed themselves accurately —Joseph P. Donnelly, M.D. Redbook, March 1964

…Yang was diagnosed mentally ill—Alan M. Dershowitz, Psychology Today, February 1969

Cindy was first diagnosed a year ago… as having a tumor—Janice Eidus, Johns Hopkins Mag. May 1977

Dr. Root, the first to diagnose me correctly —Nan Robertson, N. Y. Times Mag. 19 Sept. 1982

Many more examples can be found in the Corpus of Contemporary American English, and the original questioner’s copious dictionary citations show that this usage is well-accepted even in dictionaries. The Merriam-Webster Collegiate dictionary also gives in sense 1b “to diagnose a disease or condition in <diagnosed the patient>”.

Since words acquiring new meanings happens continuously, it is curious why some new meanings garner objections while most do not. This new meaning is useful and frequent, and provides no ambiguity or other alleged deficits of some other criticized usages. Frankly, if you are going to make pedantic objections, one should eschew the verb diagnose altogether, since it is a new-fangled word that only dates to 1859 and is a back-formation (gasp!) from diagnosis. In my opinion, it should be used freely, and we can let the critics pat themselves on the back for avoiding it and feel superior to those who use it, while the rest of the world goes on using it, oblivious to the critics’ pointless objections.

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Wow ... what an elegant answer! +1 to you sir! –  Billy ONeal Feb 18 '11 at 4:59
+1. "Diagnosing a patient with ..." is now standard; it never occurred to me that it wasn't always so! –  Mechanical snail Jul 9 '12 at 4:33

My perception is that diagnose is used in the "correct" way when speaking or writing about the actions of a doctor.

When omitting the agency of the doctor, as in your first example,

The patient was diagnosed with cancer.

the alternatives are:

The patient was diagnosed as having cancer.


Cancer was diagnosed in the patient.

The former seems to stray even farther from the cited usage. The latter dramatically changes the subject and emphasis from the patient to the cancer.

I personally find "the patient was diagnosed" an acceptable usage, if the alternative is to always reference the doctor. That a doctor did the diagnosing can probably be assumed and would seem superfluous, especially in news reporting, where brevity is essential.

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I'd appended dictionaries' defination to my question to explain my stand. To me , an acceptable usage does not mean a correct usage. –  Mr.X Jan 26 '11 at 5:39
@Mr I agree, but I think that the 1st, 2nd and 4th definitions you have appended support the use of "The patient was diagnosed." –  Jay Jan 26 '11 at 5:42
@Jay. There you could see even from the same publisher, OED hold the historical meaning when SOED , even though called shorter, and COED are reflecting an acceptable usage ( SOED 2nd def, and COED 2nd def ). It was the reason, I asked this question. Soon , the word diagnose will join other words which are stray from orginal meaning. –  Mr.X Jan 26 '11 at 5:47
"Other words which [are] stray from original meaning". That is, practically every single word in every single language that has ever been. –  Colin Fine Jan 26 '11 at 16:58
@Colin Fine: indeed! @Mr.X: if you don’t like using words that have strayed from their original meanings, then as far as I can see, you’ll have to communicate entirely in very recent coinages, or in a constructed/non-natural language. May I recommend Volapük, Lisp, or Lolspeak? –  PLL Jan 26 '11 at 17:46

No no no no no!!!!!

As a physician myself, I have been horrified and offended the gradual rise to dominance of the phrase "diagnosed with."

Only a few years ago, the proper usage was (and, I would contend still is):

Mr. X was diagnosed with a stethoscope as having pneumonia.

You diagnose with a diagnostic implement or with a test or with an exam.

You never diagnose anything "with" a disease!

Al Padilla, MD

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