Category: Short Writing

What’s in a word? Or in an armamentarium?

This article was (rapidly) rejected from both The Lancet and the BMJ.  I also link here the PDF version for lovers of typesetting and weird humour.


A. Shah Idil*

I was perusing through Brown’s 1998 revision of the epilepsy needs document for the UK [1] when I came across on page 439 a word unfamiliar to my engineer’s eyes: “armentarium”.

I asked the Oxford English dictionary to define the word for me, and it returned to my surprise: “no exact matches”. It did however suggest an alternative with two extra letters: “armamentarium” (from the Latin armāmentum – “arsenal”). This had the meaning: “the medicines, equipment, and techniques available to a medical practitioner” – much more in line with a paragraph regarding new trends in anti-epileptics.

I thought perhaps Brown had made a simple mistake, but a quick search on PubMed delivered 113 articles with the same non-word. Google Scholar gave me 2,390! There have already been a few papers published in 2019 containing “armentarium”, with phrases such as “the therapeutic armentarium”, and “the interventionalists’ armentarium” abound [2]–[5]. If one goes back far enough, we can even find 5 papers with the typographical error in the title itself [6]–[10]!

I believe the error started from one of these five, specifically with Fox’s 1968 paper, with not just one, but two typographical errors in the title: “Endodontic armentarium for the genral practitioner” [sic]. I cannot find the full paper, or even an abstract, so I cannot say if he struggled with spelling or had a particularly poor editor. From there, the error probably propagated.

After a brief investigation I found that there is indeed such a word as “armentarium” – just not in English. It is the accusative singular of the Latin word armentarius, meaning a herdsman, or a cowboy [11].

So, let us then all not be “cowboys” and allow ourselves to engage in the proliferation of incorrect terminology.

*A. Shah Idil (corresponding author, email: is with the Implanted Devices Group, University College London, London, UK.




<hi Ben, how are you?>

<good thanks n u>

<good good having a beer – long day!>


<just in the living room>

<oh at home lol>


<where do u live>

<Wiley Park>

<ur close I live at punchbowl>

<working tomorrow?>

<nah I’m on holiday>

<im home at 3 come over>


<like nudes lol?>

<I won’t say no! but whatever really>





it was the happiest night of my life

Its “It’s” you TWITS

My young mind’s confusion between when to use “it’s” and “its” was forever resolved, once upon a time, in a Year 5 Computer Studies class. We were made to do grammar exercises in a program consisting of dragging and dropping the appropriate words into empty spaces in sentences, having to choose between oft-confused words, e.g. there/they’re and their ilk. My very arrogant 11-year old self breezed through this program faster than everyone else as usual, enjoying all the flashes of 100% and “Great!”/”Well Done!” privately gloating to myself while present​ing airs of humility and studiousness (I mean, I’d been reading gigantic tomes of multi-volume fantasy series for years by now, this was utter child’s play!) right until I was roundly slapped in the face by a big red 0% and all my choices tumbled back down to the selection box, accompanied by an incredibly condescending: “uh-oh”!

I tried again.


I think I tried at least 3 times before daring to doubt myself, flipping my binary choice, and then felt shame and incredulity wash over me in alternating wash cycles.

I still claim sometimes, until today, especially when I’m drunk and/or feeling particular argumentative, that the apostrophe of “it’s” should be interpreted as possessive rather than contractive. “I bet you it was “ites” once upon a time!”

As I’m still harping on about it until today, clearly I know I’m wrong.


Laboured breathing, pain.
A life of energy, vigour, comes to a close.
And, too, her soft and gentle love.
A family gathers to say goodbye;
hesitation, guilt struggles with sadness, fear.
A blur of tears, screams and pierced hearts.
“So, cash or card?” – the body still warm.


I couldn’t find her this morning.

Walking to the train, I saw: a dark patch of gingery fluff bursting out of the blood-stained road.

Not moving.

She was always moving.

I covered her with a soft white cloth and carried her home.

Later, when no-one was watching, I cried.