My husband came home from a meeting with another colleague/consultant yesterday. “He included you in the proposal we’re putting together,” he said. “He wants you to be his amanuensis.”

While my first reaction was a moment of panic about scheduling, it was quickly replaced with a feeling of complete confusion: what the heck is an amanuensis?

It’s startlingly rare that I don’t know the basic definition of something. It’s even stranger when I walk to the bookcase and retrieve the dictionary. But it borders on completely surreal when I, middle school spelling bee champ, couldn’t even find the definition because I was spelling the word completely incorrectly (I had inaccurately assumed that it began with “e”).

For those of you keeping track at home, Dictionary.com defines it as “a person employed to take dictation or to copy manuscripts.” Hmmm. Scrolling down further to see the word origin, I’m presented with this: “Amanuensis comes from Latin, from the phrase (servus) a manu, “slave with handwriting duties,” from a, ab, “by” + manu, from manus, “hand.”

So there you have it. By using a big, fancy word to describe my role instead of simply saying, “I need a qualified medical writer,” I’m now defined as a transcription slave. Never underestimate the value of telling people what you want in plain English.

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