Medical Aphorisms

  • Robert B. Taylor


In my first year of medical school, we had a lecture by a surgeon. This was a treat for freshman medical students in the late 1950s—to have a talk by a real doctor, one who actually saw patients. The surgeon began the much- anticipated lecture by writing on the blackboard, in very large letters: “Primum non nocere!” This was my first medical aphorism. Of course, I wondered at the time why he couldn’t have written “First, do no harm” in English, especially since—as I will discuss below—the saying is frequently attributed to Hippocrates, who lived on the island of Kos, spoke Greek, and probably didn’t know Latin at all.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robert B. Taylor
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Family Medicine School of MedicineOregon Health & Sciences UniversityPortlandUSA

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