Monday, May 13, 2013

"Dead Beats": Malingerers and Feigned Diseases

By J. Theodore Calhoun, Assistant Surgeon in the United States Army, And Surgeon in Chief, 2d Division, 3d Army Corps

The term malingerer, which has always been in use in the army to designate a soldier who feigned disease, has been almost entirely superseded by a slang term, of the origin of which I am as ignorant as I am of its orthography, but which is pronounced "Dead Beat."

I may be pardoned for introducing it here, as its use is so universal among all ranks and classes, from Major-Generals to drummer boys.

The incentives to feign disease in the army are great, and the army practitioner has to be constantly on the alert to detect the true from the false. A regimental medical officer, if he knows his regiment as he should, will soon be enabled to single out the "Dead Beats," and know who to suspect. But woe be to a medical officer fresh from civil life who takes charge of a "sick call" in an old regiment. Every malingerer in the regiment makes his appearance at the "call," and such pains as he suffers, and such complaints as he pours into the ear of the medical officer will almost make the latter believe that his predecessor has been some heartless brute who has been maltreating the poor fellows; but let him order them "on duty," and he will see at the afternoon drill the crippled rheumatic of the morning the erect and active skirmisher of the afternoon.

These malingerers are often very ingenious. They understand very well what diseases can be "played," (as they term it) and what cannot.

Excerpted from: The Medical and Surgical Reporter, A Weekly Journal, August 15, 1863

IMAGE: "Playing the Old Soldier" by Winslow Homer


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