What to call chiropractic

Chiropractic was invented in the 19th Century by Daniel David Palmer, a spiritual and magnetic healer. In 1895, he claimed to have cured a deaf janitor by  ‘racking’ the man’s back. Shortly thereafter, he cured ‘a case of heart trouble’ in similar manner. In a truly epic failure of logic and reason, Palmer decided that all human ailments could be treated by manipulating the spine, and thus was Chiropractic born.

This strange and bizarre fantasy got its name from a brief dalliance with the Greek language, as recorded in Palmer’s book, ‘The Chiropractor’s Adjustor’:

“Rev. Samuel H. Weed of Portland selected for me at my request two Greek words, cheir and praxis, meaning when combined ‘done by hand’, from which I coined the word ‘chiro-practic.'”

But ‘Chiropractic’ is such an unwieldy word. Even people that should know better, those guardians of the English language (okay, journalists) can’t quite believe it is correct. Hence The Independent calls it ‘Chiropractice‘. The Telegraph calls it ‘Chiropracty‘. Clearly there is a need for another word.

‘Chiromancy’ would fit nicely, being constructed from the two Greek words ‘cheir‘ and ‘mantea‘, meaning ‘hand’ and ‘divination’ respectively. It aptly captures the manual manipulation and magical thinking needed for chiropractic to work. Sadly, though, ‘Chiromancy‘ is already in use as an alternative word for palmistry, so that’s out of the question.

‘Chiropraxis’ has the virtue of sounding the way that people seem to expect the word to sound. But the potential for confusion only begins with this construction. In German, ‘chiropraxis’ is in fact osteopathy, a similar and equally as daft 19th Century system of medicine, one that believed the bone was the starting place for all human ailments. But the Germans only add confusion on top of this with alternate spellings. Their homophone to ‘Chiropraxis’, ‘Cheiropraxis’ does in fact mean ‘Chiropractic’, although, rather more helpfully, so does the word ‘Chiropraktik’. In the interest of international relations, perhaps ‘Chiropraxis’ should also be left off the table.

The elegant and derisive portmanteau derived from the words ‘chiropractic’ and ‘quack’, ‘chiroquacktic’, has acquired new popularity, driven especially by the media storm around the British Chiropractic Association’s decision to sue the writer Simon Singh for libel. ‘Chiroquacktic’ does have the quality of conveying the snake oil origins of the chiropractic art.  In fact, a very early usage can be found in the Journal of the American Medical Association from 1922:

“To the Editor:

—Noticing that THE JOURNAL, January 14, made reference to an article on chiropractic, which appeared in Leslie’s Weekly, I procured a copy of the magazine.

Might I say that this seems a step in the right direction— articles exposing such quackery as chiropractic. I wish that every Fellow of the American Medical Association would buy a copy of Leslie’s and read Severance Johnson’s article on “Chiro-quack-tic” and then leave it on his waiting-room table for his patients to read, or pass it on to some newspaper editor, in his town or city.”

In addition to the excellent and venerable ‘Chiroquacktic’, I would like to propose, and with apologies and gratitude to that master of manipulation, prestidigitation and magical thinking, Mr. Uri Geller,  that Chiropractic also be called ‘Spine Bending’. After all, bending spoons with the power of one’s mind is as plausible as curing deafness by bending the spine with one’s hands.

But whether they are to be called spine benders, chiropractors, chiromancers, chiroquacktors or just plain quacks, for the love of all that is good, let’s not call them Doctor.

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