Saturday, June 2, 2007

The French Prohibition on Words Related to Healing

By Emma Holister

Author's note: Since this article was first published in 2004 the situation in France has changed, with a certain amount of progress being made thanks to the creation of various associations for the promotion of holistic massage. However, only time will tell as to whether or not these associations will continue to be a protective force, in view of the pressures on most associations to conform to escalating regulatory measures imposed by government and industry.

October 9, 2004

On reading the book "Healing, an Illegal Practice" by Sylvie Simon we not only discover the truth about the brutal repression of alternative medicine in France but that the very title of her book itself is causing a scandal.

Those in Alternative Medicine in France are faced with the confusing task of having to dance around in a baffling battle of semantics in order to be able to use most natural, traditional, effective remedies. Simon's title is aptly chosen.

In France, merely using certain words pertaining to health matters is against the law(L4161-1). Any therapist claiming the 'therapeutic' or 'medicinal' properties of a natural treatment risks being denounced and dragged before the law courts for 'Illegal Practice of Medicine'. Worse still, they risk being denounced as gurus of dangerous sects. The repression is often both medical and religious in nature.

Practitioners of alternative medicine as well as patients and parents choosing alternative means to treat their children, are pursued, harassed, criminalized and even imprisoned at the whim of the pharmaceutically dominated medical authorities. There have been cases of parents losing custody over their children for child neglect for not complying with the laws on compulsory vaccination of children against diphtheria, tetanus, polio and tuberculosis. Most of which are no longer a threat, thus rendering the vaccinations redundant anyway. A school has the right to refuse access to a child who has not been injected with these dubious and frequently toxic chemicals, products that are harmful to the child's health and immune system.

The 'Inquisitors', as Simon calls them, do their utmost to stamp out the population's desire for alternative medicine. The general practitioners who prescribe pharmaceutical products daily may occasionally flaunt an acupuncture needle around as a token gesture to the French medical practice having 'successfully integrated' alternative medicine into its program. However, do not be fooled. By law, no one other than a doctor from the mainstream pharmaceutically oriented schools of medicine is allowed to prescribe, diagnose symptoms, or claim medicinal, therapeutic or healing benefits, for anything other than what is officially permitted by the medical authorities and therefore the pharmaceutical industry.

It is against the law for anyone other than a mainstream doctor to practise acupuncture and homeopathy. A contradiction? The truth of the matter is that the only way to officially see an alternative medicine practitioner is to go to your mainstream doctor, who naturally, more often than not, will prescribe you more antibiotics, synthetic hormones, anti-depressants, whilst claiming that acupuncture and homeopathy are 'very good' but are 'slower and less effective' than allopathic drugs. It is difficult to get through several years of medical school without having been won over by these views. Alternative medicine in France has been hijacked.

What is the result of this on the French language? Some therapists in alternative 'medicine' (don't say that word) have accepted the bitter pill of censorship and optimistically claim to have no problem with this legal obstacle. They argue that it is simply a question of abandoning all vocabulary pertaining to health in order to practise natural 'therapies' (be careful with that word) 'freely' (and that one).

What is more worrying is that the general feeling of aversion towards doctors that is now occurring in this over-prescribed country has lead to a predictable prejudice against sensitive words such as 'doctor', 'medical', 'cure'. Sylvie Simon has even been criticised for having used the words 'Healing' and 'Illegal' in her book, pointing out that alternative 'medicine' (don't say that word), does not 'cure' because the patient 'cures' himself, that alternative 'medicine' (or alternative whatsit) is not illegal as long as we don't use the vocabulary of doctors, because natural therapies have nothing to do with 'medicine', 'doctors' and 'cures', these now being dirty words that the pharmaceutical industry are welcome to keep, we don't want them anyway.

Well, let's see, what does that leave us with in terms of vocabulary?

When the massage therapist Savatofski was pursued by the medical authorities for using the word 'massage' (permission to use this word is only granted to the official 'kinésithérapeutes') the problem was aptly overcome by changing the word 'massage' to 'touching', which so far, is not against the law. So whilst the alternative medicine practitioners jump for joy for having found a way to continue practising their healing art without more ado, the clients may find themselves in the strange position of having to say 'I'm going to get touched' instead of 'I'm going to have a massage'.

What has the good old-fashioned health-promoting massage been reduced to? Getting touched in a non-therapeutic manner? That does indeed sound vaguely illegal.

What does a Chinese Doctor become? A Chinese Thingy? What does Oriental Medicine become? Oriental Stuff? What does Oriental Diagnosis become? Oriental What-ja-ma-call-it?

France may be the only country in the world to have an official government committee which studies all the new words occurring in French culture and which determines which of those words will be officially allowed or disallowed.

So before anyone could confiscate my old dictionary with its old fashioned terms, I got it out sneakily and discovered that nowhere is it stated that these 'medical' words are the exclusive property of the pharmaceutically oriented modern medical world. In fact, looking at my dictionary of word origins, I discovered that these words all have ancient origins in Greek and Sanskrit that trace the entire history of humanity. So in reality these terms, historically speaking, describe what has now ironically come to be known as 'Alternative Medicine'.

Seeing as our predecessors in all world cultures have always used these words, having always had the right to diagnose disease and prescribe healing remedies, it is difficult to understand why we must suddenly change and only allow the pharmaceutically oriented doctors to use them. Particularly in view of the fact that modern medicine is the leading cause of death in the world, and that is not even taking into account of the deaths caused by this same industry's commerce in pesticides and chemical warfare.


Dictionary of Word Origins by John Ayto
Publishers: Bloomsbury Reference


The underlying meaning of Greek diagnosis was 'knowing apart'. It was derived from diagignoskein 'distinguish, discern,' a compound verb formed from the prefix dia- 'apart' and gignoskein 'know, perceive' (a relative of English 'know'). In post-classical times the general notion of 'distinguishing' or 'discerning' was applied specifically to medical examination in order to determine the nature of a disease.


The words for 'know' in the various Indo-European languages mostly belong to one large many-branched family which goes back ultimately to the base gn-, which also produced English can and ken. Its Latin offspring was noscere, from which English gets cognition, incognito, note, quaint, etc. From its Greek branch come English agnostic and diagnosis. And in other Indo-European languages it is represented by, among others, Sanskrit janati 'know'. Old Irish gnath 'known', and Russian znat. In the other Germanic languages it is the immediate relatives of English can (German and Dutch kennen, Swedish kanna, Danish kende) that are used for 'know': know itself, which was originally a reduplicated form, survives only in English.

The -ledge of knowledge was probably originally the suffix -lock 'action, process,' which otherwise survives only in wedlock. Acknowledge is derived from knowledge.

- agnostic, can, cognition, diagnosis, incognito, ken, knowledge note, quaint, recognise.


Latin mederi 'heal' underlies all the English 'medical' words (it was formed from the base med-, which also produced English remedy). From it was derived medicus 'doctor,' which has given English medical: and on medicus in turn were based Latin medicina 'practice of medicine' (source of English medicine) and medicari 'give medicine to' (source of English medicament and medicate).

Chambers 20th Century Dictionary 1983


The identification of a disease by means of its symptoms: a formal determining description.


To ascertain from symptoms, as a disease.


Distinguishing, differentiating that by which anything is known: a symptom.


To lay down as a rule or direction: to give as an order: to appoint: to give directions for, as a remedy: to limit, set bounds to: to claim by prescription: to lay down rules: to give or make out a prescription: to make a claim on account of long possession: to become of no force through time.


The act of prescribing or directing: a written direction for the preparation of a medicine: a recipe: enjoyment, possession, use, etc. from time immemorial or for a period of time fixed by law by which a legal right or title is acquired: any claim based on long use, or an established custom taken as authoritative. : limitation of time within which action may be taken.

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