An Emergency Department myth, dispelled: You can say “The Q word”

The Pediatric Insider

© 2014 Roy Benaroch, MD

When things slow at the Emergency Department, neither the docs nor nurses nor techs are likely to utter the dreaded “Q word”. Because, as everyone knows, once you say it out loud, the magic is gone. And the crowds will swell, and the “Q” will be destroyed.

You can think it, but don’t ever say it out loud.

At least, that was the popular myth. But does it really matter? A British physician put it to the test in his paper, “The Q**** Study – basic randomised evaluation of attendance at a children’s emergency department.”

During the study period, an envelope was opened at the beginning of each shift, randomly containing either the word “Busy” or “Q****.” The physician and nurse on the shift then said sentences containing the word an average of 12 times, and (recklessly!) displayed the word itself for the entire shift.

It turns out that attendance at the ED shift was the same, whichever word was uttered aloud. In the author’s words, “This study has shown that the long-held belief that saying the word ‘Quiet’ has dire consequences is unfounded.”

Like everyone else, doctors cling to superstitions. At least this one doesn’t hurt anyone. Too bad it isn’t so easy to dispel so many other false beliefs!

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3 Comments on “An Emergency Department myth, dispelled: You can say “The Q word””

  1. Mindy Says:

    I’ve never heard of this. Can you explain some background info? Why the superstition around the word “Quiet”? What is the significance? It seems like an innocuous word to me.


  2. Dr.M Says:


    But they failed to take into consideration whether the day was already quiet or busy. No one says, wow it’s quiet! On a moderately busy day. This is key, in my opinion.


  3. Dr. M Says:

    Also, emergency departments everywhere exploded upon the reading of this post.

    Mindy, it is a medical superstition that to comment on how something is going well will only cause it to stop going well. IE, boy its quiet in here today! brings an onslaught of emergencies that will cause all nurses and doctors to beg for mercy.


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