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I'm developing a website for a client who provides physical education programs for elementary schools. The client frequently uses the word clinic to refer to his more targeted sports programs for kids, e.g. a basketball clinic. Of course the client is referring to the following definition (from Merriam Webster online):

a group meeting devoted to the analysis and solution of concrete problems or to the acquiring of specific skills or knowledge <writing clinics> <golf clinics>

However, this usage feels unnatural to me. I've only heard the word clinic used in the context of hospitals, patient care facilities, laboratories, and the like. I worry that the imagery triggered by the word clinic is not as "warm" as alternative words like camp, course, and program. From a marketing perspective, I feel that an alternative word should be used.

I'm asking on English.SE in case I'm simply ignorant, or at least ignorant to a difference of language in generations. That is, I'm in my mid-20s, my client is in his 30s or 40s, and the target audience would be in the client's age group: parents, teachers, principals, and coaches. Given that I'd like to use their generation's language, is clinic a more natural choice?

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I would interpret a clinic to be more specialized and less recreational than a camp, and more hands-on than a course or program. NOAD defines clinical as of or relating to the observation and treatment of actual patients rather than theoretical or laboratory studies; I would expect a sports clinic to involve specialized, hands-on training. –  J.R. Apr 9 '13 at 2:50
    
None of the factors you detail in the question seem to be relevant. In the given context, a 'clinic' is a clinic, a 'camp' a camp and a 'program' a program. You need to understand the contextual meaning of each kind of activity among these and decide that which you mean. –  Kris Apr 9 '13 at 7:00
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I often hear athletes, and basketball players in particular, use the word "clinic". Usually, it's when saying something like, "I'm gonna run on a clinic on you with my jump shot", or, "We got killed on the glass. They ran a clinic with their rebound game". Very much on-court vernacular, but basketball players, probably older ones who play street ball, know the term and are probably less likely to feel like it's a "cold" way to describe a training program. –  tylerharms Apr 9 '13 at 8:23
    
I was going to chime in that a "camp" typically has other activities besides the targeted or named one but thinking back to my music camp days, it was pretty much all music, no camp. So I guess that "camp" can be used to warm up the sound of the activity but I wonder if today's parents of young athletes might prefer the more formal sounding "clinic" (as StoneyB's answer addressed so well)? –  Kristina Lopez Apr 9 '13 at 18:19
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2 Answers

up vote 10 down vote accepted

I'm 65, and I sympathize with your distaste for the term in this context, so I don't think this is a matter of age cohorts.

A clinic, as you recognize, is not a warm and welcoming place for healthy recreation, but an intense and demanding program of professional coaching. And although I find it revolting that clinics should be offered for elementary school pupils, I’m afraid your client has a more cynical sense of his market than you and I might like.

There are all too many parents out there who are hypercompetitive on behalf (nominally) of their children. For these it is not enough for their children to enjoy sport: the children must excel at sport, must be “given every opportunity” to develop technical skills by which they may outstrip their peers. They must, in short, emulate their parents' drive to succeed.

So there is your market for clinics. And it is likely to be a particularly lucrative component of your client's marketing plan: for it is the nature of the beast that the parents who adopt this attitude are those most likely to command the resources, or most willing to make the sacrifices, which enable them to pay through the nose in hopes of realizing their vicarious ambitions.

Clinic is not a “natural and warm” term. It’s not supposed to be.


Let me hasten to add that such clinics are not peculiar to athletics; they are also to be found, and deplored, in the performing arts. For all I know there are even elementary-school clinics for chess, mathematics, and subatomic physics. I somehow doubt, however, that they exist for writers and linguists and such merely intellectual riff-raff.

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I think you'll find there are lots of writers' clinics. But you're right: clinic is a clinical term. –  Andrew Leach Apr 9 '13 at 9:10
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@AndrewLeach But those are for college students and grownups, not children. –  StoneyB Apr 9 '13 at 11:16
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+1 for hitting the nail on the head. Clinics are not warm and friendly. Although I disagree that they are necessarily "intense and demanding," they do teach very specific skills, and they are for kids who want to be (or whose parents want them to be) competitive athletes. Camps and programs are for kids who want to have fun (or whose parents want them to have fun) while learning about a sport. –  KitFox Apr 9 '13 at 12:01
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@MετάEd Perhaps when I retire I shall conduct Writing Boot Camps for Middle Managers. –  StoneyB Apr 9 '13 at 12:21
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As a 69-year-old linguist I concur with StoneyB regarding the negative connotation of the term 'clinic' but, as the parent and grandparent of athletes who have attended such things I believe that clinics are in fact directed at players who already possess at least a modicum of the targeted skill and aim to correct errors and improve specific components of that skill. Like visits to walk-in health clinics, an athletic clinic is typically a short-term--one-hour or half-day--intensive session with an expert who knows how to improve participants' skills. Clinics can target different skill levels. –  H Stephen Straight Apr 9 '13 at 21:28
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If you can't use the word "clinician" in reference to the operation of the "clinic", it's not a clinic.

I see it as being that simple. "Clinic" is one of the most disturbing examples of techno-babble I know and I have never used it to refer to anything but medical clinics.

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