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?

  • 4
    Perhaps it's because people don't know what "allopathy" means, and "mainstream medicine" is more descriptive.
    – Joe Z.
    Jan 17, 2013 at 4:26
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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.. Jan 17, 2013 at 5:10
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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, 2013 at 10:35
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    Johns Hopkins has one of the top-ranked medical schools in the U.S. They have a web page web.jhu.edu/prepro/health/allopathic.html that explains the history of the term and states without qualification, "M.D.s practice allopathic medicine." It appears to be used non-pejoratively simply to describe what MD's do, in contradistinction to dentists, pharmacists, physical therapists, and others. The talk page of the WP article en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk:Allopathic_medicine suggests that the term may be politicized or controversial, or maybe just that WP is being dysfunctional here.
    – user16723
    Mar 30, 2014 at 23:47
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    "Allopathy" is a term that homeopathic practitioners use in a pejorative sense to mean "mainstream medicine". Some "mainstream" folks may embrace it, but I'd be a little careful about using the term.
    – Hot Licks
    Oct 21, 2014 at 22:14

1 Answer 1


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.

  • 2
    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? Jan 17, 2013 at 5:23
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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, 2013 at 10:04
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    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, 2013 at 10:23
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    @BenCrowell really? If anything I over-analysed because I addressed the logical flaw in the term. Really, the simpler answer of "because they just don't give a crap what homoeopaths say, so why would they bother using their terms" suffices.
    – Jon Hanna
    Mar 31, 2014 at 8:57
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    @BenCrowell ah, I see your comments on the question. That is interesting; I haven't seen such uses in anything later than mid-20th Century myself. It would be interesting to see what a wider search turned up (i.e. where the rest of the remaining hits in ngrams is coming from).
    – Jon Hanna
    Apr 1, 2014 at 9:02

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