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Clinomorphism (from the Greek words klinikos meaning "bed" 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

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 different 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 rare symptom of Tourette's.


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] Similarly, clinomorphism within autism has recently occurred in the opposite direction: autism is portrayed as synonymous with high IQ and a scientific disposition, and notable figures, such as Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton, are put forward as examples of people with autism in order to back up this assertion.[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]


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 simply use as a metaphor an otherwise difficult to describe idea, in much the same way as anthropomorphism might be (where we attribute the characteristics of a mind to inanimate objects, purely for ease of description of a particular phenomenon, rather than as a result of holding a genuinely animistic 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 (2007). Savant syndrome: an extraordinary condition. Wisconsin Medical Society. Retrieved on 2007-07-13.
  2. ^ Chakrabarti S, Fombonne E (2001). "Pervasive developmental disorders in preschool children". JAMA 285 (24): 3093–99. PMID 11427137.
  3. ^ Einstein and Newton 'had autism'. BBC (30 April 2003). Retrieved on 2007-11-07.
  4. ^ Saner E. "'It is not a disease, it is a way of life'", The Guardian, 2007-08-07. Retrieved on 2007-08-07. 
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Clinomorphism". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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