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Is using the term "allopathy" to describe mainstream (i.e. real) medicine, pejorative? I know the term was originally used by homeopaths to insult real medicine, but I have heard it being used more and more lately, and am curious if there is still a pejorative sense to the term.

36

The word has no real meaning outside of the context of homeopathy. It's rather pejorative in that context. It's rather irrelevant in any other.

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    "Allopathic" is used in professional journals often to distinguish between homeopathic/lifestyle changes and pharmaceutical approach to primary care problems. – Stu W Sep 20 '17 at 22:43
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    Well, it kind of does have a meaning divorced from the context of modern homeopathy. But it (a) is not what homeopaths mean when they describe mainstream medicine to "be" allopathic; (b) also yields a meaning for "homeopathic" different from "the activity that we refer to as homeopathic medicine". Some mainstream medical practices are homeopathic in this divorced sense (for example treating mild fever-inducing infections by keeping the patient warm). Most are not, and perhaps practicing homeopaths would not consider that a doctor giving that advice is engaged in "homeopathic medicine"! – Steve Jessop Sep 21 '17 at 13:24
  • @SteveJessop but are those terms actually used much that way? – Jon Hanna Sep 21 '17 at 13:34
  • @Jon: well, I'd guess less than the second-most common meaning of (for example) the word "set", but enough to justify it appearing in dictionaries. – Steve Jessop Sep 21 '17 at 13:38
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    Also, don't upvote an answer simply to show your opposition to homeopathic ideals! This answer is short, rather opinionated, and doesn't address the real question of whether this word has non-perjorative use and meaning. – NH. Sep 27 '17 at 17:00
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There are two kinds of practicing physicians in the United States: allopathic physicians (MD's) and osteopathic physicians (DO's). Both are fully licensed physicians, trained in diagnosing and treating illnesses and disorders, and in providing preventive care.

-Indiana University Bloomington web page

Modern medicine generally refers to clinical practice: the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of disease by a physician. That physician may be an allopathic physician (M.D.) or an osteopathic physician (D.O.).

-Explore Health Careers web page

It seems to me that these web pages intend to use neutral language.

Apparently, osteopathy is a later development than allopathy, and a reaction to allopathy, intended to promote whole-body health and preventive strategies and to reduce treatment with medicine. The distinction does still exist today, both in training and in practice; but in general allopaths and osteopaths perform the same roles (prescribing drugs, performing surgery, etc.) in every state, and they often make similar decisions.

In my personal experience in a family of MD’s, the culture of medicine is like this: MD’s and DO’s consider each other to be equals in the first rank of competence. For example they would be likely to assume that an ophthalmologist (regardless of whether he is an MD or a DO) would be preferable to an optometrist. And they would generally consider in one category such people as acupuncturists, chiropractors or homeopaths, people who apparently have an occasional success for reasons that nobody really understands, and so are worth considering for a patient who cannot be treated successfully and wants to try that route.

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    From those two sites, is there any indication what the difference is between an MD and a DO? Between allopathy and osteopathy? And then, any reference there to homeopathy (the context of the OP)? – Mitch Sep 20 '17 at 17:13
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    I'm looking for clarification. Yes, your answer gives evidence that 'allopathy' is used sometimes in non-pejorative situations. But the OP asked in the context of a distinction with -homeopathy- not osteopathy. Since you mention osteopathy and not homeopathy at all, people might think that you are using them synonymously. By explaining the differences, you will make it clear what context(s) you are showing lack of pejoration in. – Mitch Sep 20 '17 at 17:27
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    Sorry for the wrong link it should be en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Osteopathy . But therein is the terminological problem. Those physicians with DO degrees, who, as you added, are considered respectable scientific medical practitioners with hardly distinguishable training from MDs, say they practice 'osteopathic medicine' in contrast with the outdated and pseudoscientific 'osteopathy', a label that is avoided and denigrated by DOs despite a historical connection in the 19th c. – Mitch Sep 20 '17 at 19:34
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    I don't think the term 'allopathy' was ever used by MDs, and is a neologism that has only caught on in the late 20th century, and is used only by people in favor of homeopathy (osteopathy is not a currently used label), to distinguish it from traditional medicine. People who converse from the context of traditional scientific based medicine tend to call the thing that homeopathy is not just 'medicine'. – Mitch Sep 20 '17 at 19:36
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    DOs get MD training plus some pseudoscience. The "whole-body health" stuff is just the latest way to spin the nonsense, since they have been moving away from the more obvious quackery (and thus becoming less distinguishable from an MD). Although DOs are far from the most harmful form of "alternative" medicine preying on patients these days, I would still prefer to see more skepticism expressed in your answer. – Harabeck Sep 20 '17 at 22:27
22

Allopathy is mostly used pejoratively. But in the United States it sometimes is used non-pejoratively. The connotation depends on context.

In its literal sense, allopathy is not pejorative. It is a technical term, part of an unscientific disease theory that “like cures like”. It was coined by Samuel Hahnemann (in German, later borrowed into English). It was part of his classification system of all drug treatments according to the symptoms the drugs would be expected to cause in a healthy person:

  • homeopathic treatments produce symptoms resembling those produced by the disease (hómoios, “resembling”)

  • enantiopathic treatments produce symptoms opposite to those produced by the disease (enantíos, “opposing”)

  • allopathic treatments produce symptoms neither resembling nor opposite to those produced by the disease (állos, “other”)

But in practice, allopathy is used by Hahnemann’s disciples as a dismissive label for all medical practices that do not follow the “like cures like” theory, and therefore are supposedly useless or harmful. In the same way, someone might dismissively refer to surgery they consider useless or harmful as butchery or bloodletting. (At one time, bloodletting was common medical practice, based on the unscientific theory that the cause of disease is imbalance of bodily fluids.*)

Recently in the United States, the term allopathic medicine has begun to be used with no pejorative connotation as an antonym of osteopathic medicine. In this context, allopathic medicine means medicine as practiced by Doctors of Medicine, and osteopathic medicine means medicine as practiced by Doctors of Osteopathy. This is arguably a very loose or figurative usage, because osteopathic is not opposite to allopathic – it is not a Hahnemann classification at all. Osteopathic treatments were based on yet another unscientific theory, that disease is caused by problems in the bones and muscles and can be reversed by manipulating joints and tissues. Arguably Hahnemann would have considered osteopathy just another useless allopathic practice.

For more information, see the Wikipedia articles “Homeopathy”, “Allopathic medicine”, and “Osteopathic medicine in the United States”.


* “You know, medicine is not an exact science, but we are learning all the time. Why, just fifty years ago, they thought a disease like your daughter’s was caused by demonic possession or witchcraft. But nowadays we know that Isabelle is suffering from an imbalance of bodily humors, perhaps caused by a toad or a small dwarf living in her stomach.” (“Theodoric of York, Medieval Barber”, Saturday Night Live, season 3, episode 18)

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    And note that since "homeopathic" is now used to refer to substances that have been diluted to be nothing but water, so-called homeopathic treatments are, literally speaking, allopathic. Many other alternative treatments, such as acupuncture for migraines, are "treating" a condition with something different, and so are literally speaking allopathic. Meanwhile, many mainstream treatments, such as vaccines, radiation for cancer, and surgery to fix damage from a stab wound, can be considered to be, literally speaking, homeopathic. – Acccumulation Sep 21 '17 at 17:05
  • @Acccumulation Comments are used to help improve the answer: ask for clarification, suggest changes, etc. For conversation/discussion using this answer as a springboard, join us in the English Language & Usage Chat. – MetaEd Sep 21 '17 at 17:28
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In India, most usages of "allopathy" that I have seen are not pejorative. I don't think I have seen a pejorative use of "allopathy" in common usage so far. I have also seen it used by government officials non-pejoratively. For example, here are some articles from mainstream newspapers of India:

  • 90% of Indians prefer allopathy over AYUSH - The Times of India, July 8, 2015. ("AYUSH" comprises a bunch of alternative medicine systems: Ayurveda, Yoga, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy. There's even a ministry for it.)
  • WHO report sounds alarm on ‘doctors’ in India The Hindu, July 18, 2016:

    Speaking to The Hindu, Dr. Reena Nayyar, Secretary of the Medical Council of India (MCI), said, "I don’t think this report has officially come to the MCI yet. But in general, any person practising allopathic medicine who does not have a registered medical qualification comes under quackery."

    The MCI establishes standards of medical qualifications in India.

  • Now, unani, ayurveda practitioners can prescribe allopathy medicines, perform surgeries - The Indian Express, February 28, 2014.

  • Army to throw open doors to alternative medicine - Hindustan Times, January 25, 2016:

    “Mainstream doctors have traditionally resisted alternative medicine treatment. But let’s be frank, we really don’t have the domain knowledge to dismiss it. The idea behind the experiment is to see if alternative medicine can work where allopathy has no answers,” said Lieutenant General BK Chopra, director general, Armed Forces Medical Services (AFMS).

You can safely use "allopathy" to talk about mainstream medicine in India without accidentally belittling it.

5

Consider conventional medicine (cancer.gov) as a more neutral alternative:

A system in which medical doctors and other healthcare professionals (such as nurses, pharmacists, and therapists) treat symptoms and diseases using drugs, radiation, or surgery. Also called allopathic medicine, biomedicine, mainstream medicine, orthodox medicine, and Western medicine.

2

About the only practical use for allopathic is to split the MDs off from the DOs. Both groups practice essentially the same kind of medicine nowadays, but for historical reasons many U.S. states will have two Boards of Medicine (BOM), a Board of Allopathic Medicine and a Board of Osteopathic Medicine. Most DOs spend most of their time practicing allopathic medicine and, one could argue, that an MD physiatrist who uses massage to aid in recovery from a reconstructive procedure is practicing manipulative, i.e. osteopathic, medicine.

Not all states will have two BOMs, (e.g. Arizona) and in those states the term "Board of Medical Examiners" is often used. It would issue medical licenses to both MDs and DOs.

Just to put the final nail in this linguistic coffin, surgeons are not always addressed as "Doctor" in the UK.

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    This sentence deserves its own upvote: "Just to put the final nail in this linguistic coffin, surgeons are not always addressed as "Doctor" in the UK." __ Notoriously confusing: Mr.Jones became Dr.Jones when he completed basic medical training and became Mr.Jones again when he formally qualified as a surgeon. He became Dr.Jones again when he took his Ph.D for some reason, but preferred to be called Mr.Jones as a practicing surgeon. – English Student Sep 28 '17 at 15:15
  • It is baffling to 'a – Michael Owen Sartin Oct 18 '17 at 7:52
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    I just re-read my original answer (because someone was kind enough to edit more mistakes than I typically make in a month) and it occurred to me that allopathic could have been used pejoratively, especially in the southern United States, prior to the 21st century. – Michael Owen Sartin Oct 27 '17 at 1:09

protected by tchrist Sep 23 '17 at 23:01

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