Nurses reveal the meaning of code words they use that patients don’t understand

Abby Lockhart, a nurse on ER played by Maura Tierney.

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Abby Lockhart, a nurse on ER played by Maura Tierney.
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Mike Ansell/NBCU Photo Bank
  • If you’ve ever been a patient in the ER or a doctor’s office, odds are you’ve heard a nurse throw around some unusual words or phrases.
  • TV hospital dramas have popularized phrases such as “coding,” “stat,” and “crash cart.”
  • But there are other names, phrases, and abbreviations nurses use to describe situations and patients to each other that you just wouldn’t know the meaning of unless you asked.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Medical jargon is pretty tricky for anyone outside the profession to understand.

TV shows like “ER” and “Grey’s Anatomy” have helped to shed light on some of the confusing acronyms and phrases used in hospitals and doctors’ offices, but only practicing nurses and doctors know all the slang.

Business Insider asked seven nurses and scoured nursing blogs to find out just what the secret phrases nurses use on the job really mean.


A “frequent flyer” is a patient nurses see a little too much around the hospital.

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Reuters

In the medical world, patients who show up to the ER repeatedly with different ailments are often referred to as “frequent flyers,” Liz, a nurse with two years of experience, told Business Insider.

Verywell Health defines a frequent flyer as someone who regularly visits the emergency room instead of seeing their primary care doctor.


“Tachy” isn’t referring to your outfit.

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David Keeler/Online USA

This isn’t a misspelling for “tacky.” If you overhear a nurse say “tachy” they’re not insulting a patient’s sense of style. It’s short for tachycardia, which means a fast heart rate, one nurse, Marianne said.


Code brown might mean what you think it means…

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Freer/Shutterstock

You might be familiar with code blue – an emergency code for an immediate resuscitation that’s often shouted on shows like “Grey’s Anatomy” and “ER.” But have you ever heard of a code brown?

Nancy, a nurse with 45 years of experience, told Business Insider that it’s used when there’s a poop situation. Specifically, when a patient needs to be cleaned up after a bowel movement.


…and a “chocolate hostage” is similarly gross.

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Chloe Pantazi/INSIDER

This one’s not quite as menacing as it sounds.

Amy, a nurse with six years of experience, told Business Insider that “chocolate hostage” is nurse-speak for a patient who’s suffering from constipation.


Nurses can spot a patient suffering from “NPS” a mile off.

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Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Classic NPS symptoms include a clenched jaw, furrowed brow, and a baby wrapped in cotton wool, Glenys, a nurse with 22 years of experience, told Business Insider.

She said that patients diagnosed with NPS are showing signs of what nurses have dubbed “new parent syndrome” – overprotective parents who bring their newborns into hospital for displaying perfectly normal baby behavior.

Nurse Buff, a nurse lifestyle blog, defines NPS as “panicky new parents who constantly bring their child in the hospital for every little health problem they see.”


“PITA” isn’t referring to the bread.

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Veganbaking.net

The word pita might make you think of hummus, but if you hear it in a hospital, it means something totally different.

Liz, a nurse with two years of experience, told Business Insider that among nurses, a PITA is a patient or family member who is a pain in the a–.

“It’s a code nurses use to warn their fellow nurses about an uncooperative patient or relative,” according to Nurse Buff.


A “BONITA” means more than just the Spanish word for “pretty.”

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REUTERS/Dylan Martinez

A “BONITA” is the acronym for “big ol’ needle in the a–,” used when nurses give intramuscular injections in the patient’s buttocks.

Nurses select the buttocks region to administer vaccines or drugs that are too irritating or dangerous to be swallowed or inserted into a blood vein, according to Healthline.

Intramuscular injections are also commonly given in the arm and hip.