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Clinomorphism (from the Greek words klinikos meaning "bed" (see Clinic) and morphos meaning "form") is the deliberate or unintentional simplification, alteration, or amplification of the term for a medical condition (usually for dramatic effect). A caricature to which sufferers of (or care providers for those with) the condition may object is an example of simplification, while frequent over-use of a medical term, in the absence of bona fide symptoms, might be considered an amplification.


Tourette's syndrome[edit]

Tourette's syndrome is typically clinomorphically depicted as being a condition of involuntary (and often unconscious) outbursts of offensive language or behaviour, usually on account of being unable to repress (or unaware that they are articulating) involuntary responses.

The typical clinomorphism of Tourette's is both an oversimplification and a conflation of various aspects and conditions pertaining to some persons with Tourette syndrome. Some people with Tourette syndrome do have involuntary offensive speech which is termed coprolalia and is sometimes clinomorphised into the term "compulsive swearing" or "compulsive profanity", terms which have clinomorphic currency outside the use of the term "Tourette's". However, coprolalia is actually a relatively rare symptom of Tourette's.

Today, the use of the term Tourette's is deemed incorrect. The correct usage is Tourette Syndrome. This may seem like a minor or nit-picky distinction, but as with other disorders (such as "Down's Syndrome, the possessive is discouraged.


Autism is clinomorphically seen as a condition where the autistic individual is essentially mentally retarded and a human calculator at the same time, a cultural perception exemplified by the movie Rain Man. In reality, although as many as 10% of individuals with autism spectrum disorders may display splinter skills such as memorization of trivia, autistic savant prodigies are extraordinarily rare;[1] conversely, though autism is associated with mental retardation, many individuals with autism spectrum disorders are not mentally retarded.[2] In fact, most individuals with High-functioning autism or Asperger's syndrome have an average or above-average IQ and may be exceptionally talented in music, mathematics, or science. Historical figures such as Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton, who are believed by some to have been on the autistic spectrum, are sometimes used as examples of highly intelligent people who had autistic traits.[3][4]


Obsessive-compulsive disorder and obsessive-compulsive personality disorder are two distinct psychological disorders, but media portrayals are often very simplistic and do not reflect the difference between the two. Though disorders can manifest themselves in a very wide range of symptoms, portrayals often tend towards caricature, and emphasize only the most stereotypical of symptoms.

In addition, the phrase "obsessive-compulsive" is often casually used to describe behavior which may be picky or pedantic, but is not at all close to the diagnostic criteria for obsessive-compulsive behavior.[citation needed]

Mood swings[edit]

Often individuals who are "moody" or have mood swings say they are bipolar. Bipolar disorder is an often severe mood disorder characterized by periods of days, weeks, or months of deep depression, alternating with periods of normal mood and/or manic episodes, which are not just periods of "high energy" or "productivity", though these may be a symptom of mania.


Clinomorphism is in fact often both a contributory factor in as well as being the result of the mythology and popular misconception of many medical conditions.

Clinomorphism is usually the basis for controversy in medical conditions such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (aka Chronic Fatigue Syndrome), ADHD, and Dyslexia where consensus is not easily established concerning the validity of the conditions and clinomorphism is in fact seen as pejorative, so that clinomorphic references to these conditions are ascribed respectively to being "cowardice", "malingering", "disobedience" and "stupidity".

Clinomorphism, whilst being a linguistic behaviour which exemplifies particular "errors" and deliberate misrepresentations, may also be a natural tendency in the sense that it is potentially an understandable consequence of the need to abbreviate or to simply use a clinomorphism as a metaphor to convey an otherwise difficult to describe idea, in much the same way as anthropomorphism might be (where we attribute the human characteristics or presence of a mind to anything non-human, purely for ease of description of a particular phenomenon, rather than as a result of holding a genuinely animistic or pantheistic belief).

An example of clinomorphic tendency would be in the case of autism or Asperger syndrome where particular characteristics of these syndromes (such as the limitations on the ability of a sufferer to form a mental model of the state of mind of another person) would be clinomorphically used as a metaphor or simile for someone's behaviour, where the individual being described clinomorphically is not in fact believed by the utterer to be a sufferer of the condition in question.

The danger is that this will be seen as an offensive misrepresentation of and disrespect towards the condition of an actual sufferer, and thus such clinomorphism (even as a metaphorical convenience) would need to be restricted to discreet private discourse, or avoided altogether.


  1. ^ Treffert DA (2009). "The savant syndrome: an extraordinary condition. A synopsis: past, present, future". Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 364 (1522): 1351–7. doi:10.1098/rstb.2008.0326. PMC 2677584Freely accessible. PMID 19528017. Lay summaryWisconsin Medical Society. 
  2. ^ Chakrabarti S, Fombonne E (2001). "Pervasive developmental disorders in preschool children". JAMA. 285 (24): 3093–99. doi:10.1001/jama.285.24.3093. PMID 11427137. 
  3. ^ "Einstein and Newton 'had autism'". BBC. 30 April 2003. Retrieved 2007-11-07. 
  4. ^ Saner E (7 August 2007). "'It is not a disease, it is a way of life'". The Guardian. Retrieved 2007-08-07.