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‘Organic’ and ‘non-organic’: a tale of two turnips
  1. Jon Stone,
  2. Alan Carson
  1. Centre for Clinical Brain Sciences, University of Edinburgh, Western General Hospital, Edinburgh, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Jon Stone, Western General Hospital, Crewe Road, Edinburgh EH4 2XU, UK; jon.stone{at}

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Neurologists use the word ‘organic’ a lot. We like to think we can spot when things are ‘organic’ or indeed ‘non-organic’. But what exactly do we mean?

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) gives us eight definitions of the word organic. No wonder we get so confused by it. In the biological/medical sense it comes up with ‘Of a part of the body: composed of distinct parts or tissues (obs.); of, relating to, or of the nature of an organ or organs. Later (Med.): producing or characterized by structural or other pathological change in an organ or organs (now esp. the brain) (cf. functional adj. 3b); not psychogenic’.1

The chemical definition boils it right down to basics, ‘relating to or designating compounds which exist naturally as constituents of living organisms or are formed from such substances …

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  • Competing interests We used the phrase ‘organic disease’ in a lot of our epidemiological studies – we shouldn’t have.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; externally peer reviewed. Reviewed by Martin Turner, Oxford, UK.

  • Correction notice This article has been corrected since it published Online First. The Competing interests statement has been edited.

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