Chapter & Verse

Correspondence on not-so-famous lost words

 John Endicott asks whether Le Corbusier did in fact declare that “Democracy is a great system, as long as there is a dictator at the top.”

Kit Kennedy hopes someone can place a bleak poem, possibly set during World War I or around 1900,  in which the narrator is writing to the woman he loves toward the close of the year. One line, she recalls, runs something like: “My love only to you this late year date.”

“Every time a physician is called a provider…an angel dies” (March-April). Eliot Kieval suggested a June 1999 column by Ellen Goodman containing a variant of the sentence, and Henry Godfrey unearthed a version quoted by Donald M. Berwick, who attributed it to an unnamed surgeon, in a 1997 article. Neither Goodman nor Berwick knew of a more specific citation when queried (and Berwick no longer quite agrees with the sentiment). The nearest answer, from Dan Rosenberg, comes from a 1982 article, “What Is Wrong with the Language of Medicine?” (New England Journal of Medicine, 306:863f), by the late health economist Rashi Fein, who wrote:  “Several years ago a physician friend told me that he had a James Barrie concept of what was causing the loss of humaneness or humanity in medicine. In his view, whenever a physician or a nurse was called a ‘provider’ and whenever a patient was called a ‘consumer,’ one more angel died.”

Send inquiries and answers to “Chapter and Verse,” Harvard Magazine, 7 Ware Street, Cambridge 02138 or chapterandverse@harvardmag.com.

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