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According to Wikipedia,

Allopathic medicine and allopathy (from the Greek prefix ἄλλος, állos, "other", "different" + the suffix πάϑος, páthos, "suffering") are terms coined in the early 19th century by Samuel Hahnemann,the founder of homeopathy, as a synonym for mainstream medicine.

Never accepted as a mainstream scientific term, it was adopted by alternative medicine advocates to refer pejoratively to mainstream medicine.

One will, however, come across the terms, allopathy or allopathic quite often in India – where homeopathy and ayurveda therapies have gained big popularity recently, so much that a majority of language purists regard allopathy as mainly an Indian English term (– I read that in a magazine recently). That may be subject to argument, but 'allopathy' does seem to be a term that many across the world refuse use in referring to mainstream medicine.

What I would like to know is: Why is allopathy not acceptable as a term in that sense? And personally, do you use it to refer to mainstream medicine or is there a different term you prefer?

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Perhaps it's because people don't know what "allopathy" means, and "mainstream medicine" is more descriptive. –  Joe Z. Jan 17 '13 at 4:26
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@JoeZeng: I disagree. If that is the case, people would rather use 'alternative medicine' for homeopathy because 'alternative medicine' is more descriptive. –  user32480 Jan 17 '13 at 5:02
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The hypernym for homeopathy, ayurveda, acupuncture, etc., is alternative medicine. Most if not all alternative practices are also not evidence-based medicine with requirements such as clinical trials etc.. –  coleopterist Jan 17 '13 at 5:10
    
I'd say it could also be because osteopathy is also widely considered to be part of mainstream medicine, but people don't know what that is, either. –  Cameron Jan 17 '13 at 6:58
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To paraphrase Tim Minchin, it's probably because we already have a name for allopathic medicine: it's 'medicine'. –  Kaz Dragon Jan 17 '13 at 10:35
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1 Answer 1

up vote 7 down vote accepted

For a start, the reasoning is incorrect:

Strictly homoeopathy means "treating like with like". That is to say, you treat an ailment with a medicine that would in other circumstances cause the same symptoms.

Generally though, by homoeopathy we mean something narrower still, which is the use of extreme dilutions.

But if we take the word at its root, we could argue that conventional vaccines are "homoeopathic" in this non-specific sense.

Allopathy is the exact opposite - treating something with something that causes the opposite effect. You could reasonably apply the term to some conventional approaches (running your finger under a cold tap if you've burnt it is an allopathic remedy!), but not to all of them.

If we take this broad approach to these terms, we can find ourselves applying either depending on how precisely we look. We could consider digitalis. Overdosing on digitalis can cause fatal heart disturbances. Do we consider its use to treat heart conditions homoeopathic (treating heart conditions with something that causes heart conditions) or do we note its antiarrhythmic effects are what cause such fatal heart disturbances and so use it to treat people with heart conditions that would benefit from those effects - essentially an allopathic use.

(Amusingly, digitalis is used by both conventional and homoeopathic practitioners to treat some heart conditions).

Most importantly though, not only are not all conventional treatments "allopathic" in this broad sense, but that is not how doctors and medical researchers consider their field. They do not look at a symptom and then immediately concentrate upon looking for various things in the word that cause the opposite to occur.

As such, allopathic is inappropriate to use to describe conventional medicine not just on conventional medicine's terms, but on Hahnemann's too.

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Just as a matter of curiosity, can you please explain why you are using the alternative spelling homoeopathy instead of the standard spelling homeopathy as used in the question? –  jwpat7 Jan 17 '13 at 5:23
    
@jwpat: I expect to stress the homoe- prefix (”similar”) from the Ancient Greek ὅμοιος (homoios, “of like kind”, “similar”). Similar to homo-. –  Hugo Jan 17 '13 at 5:41
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@jwpat7 I have no strong feelings on the word, so just went with what my en-GB spell-check suggests (Firefox does not offer a separate en-IE spell-check). I imagine they assumed oe was always favoured over e in en-GB when both exist - not always true, but often the case. Incidentally, the only homeopathic pharmacist I regularly pass is labelled homœopathic, homeopathic and homoeopathic on the outside on different signs and posters. –  Jon Hanna Jan 17 '13 at 10:04
    
Of course, while a homeopathic dilution may include digitalis on the label, it's so dilute that there won't be any actual digitalis remaining in the solution. –  tinyd Jan 17 '13 at 10:23
    
@tinyd Yep, though I only address the question of whether it's "like with like" or "like with unlike" because that's the only factor that relates to the coinage homeopathy as a coinage. –  Jon Hanna Jan 17 '13 at 10:43
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