Bedside manner vs. chairside manner: How context shapes terminology


While I was at the dentist last week, I heard an interesting term that I had never come across before. My dentist was describing a colleague of hers, and said the colleague had a great “chairside manner”. After a few moments, I realized this was the dental equivalent of “bedside manner”, just updated to reflect the context of a dental office.

Now, I don’t think anybody would be confused if someone said their dentist has a great bedside manner. The term is widely used, and we don’t have any problem figuring out what it means. But apparently the dental profession has adopted the “chairside” variant, owing to patients sitting in a chair at dental offices — rather than in a bed in a hospital, or a bed-like table at a doctor’s office.

Even though “bedside manner” and “chairside manner” both describe how a medical professional interacts with patients, the difference in context led to the evolution of two different terms for essentially the same thing. I wonder if even more variants of this phrase will evolve in the future. Will people start saying “screenside manner” if telemedicine gains in popularity? Only time will tell, but I suspect the original term will remain quite popular in the long run.