When the men and women of late medieval Britain began to read and produce medical writings on a scale unprecedented in earlier centuries, they faced the problem of jargon—that is, how to negotiate the interface between knowledge and nonsense in their literate practices. The polyglot heterogeneity of medicine’s vocabulary, the diversity of its audience, and the life-and- death context of its use contributed to the tension between the discourse’s aspirations and its limitations. This essay argues that widespread experiences of medicine’s jargon in the late fourteenth and fifteenth centuries had the effect of yoking together in the minds of British readers the materiality of medical language and the materiality of the body. I examine how the literate creativity of practical medical writing addressed the problem of jargon as well as how satires of medical expertise, particularly Robert Henryson’s “Sum Practysis of Medecyne,” made jargon a poetic opportunity.

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