Definition of Medical etymology

Medical etymology: The origin of medical words and terms. Etymology is an account of the origins and the developments in the meaning of a word or term. Medical etymology brings us into contact with the "history of medicine, of human ideas, and of the human struggle to understand the forces of nature that determine human destiny and mortality," as Dr. John Dirckx has put it.

For an example of a medical etymology, the word "diabetes" is borrowed from the Greek word meaning "a siphon." The 2nd-century A.D. Greek physician, Aretus the Cappadocian, named the condition "diabetes." He explained that patients with it had polyuria and "passed water like a siphon."

Many medical words, like diabetes, come from the Greek or Latin, along with most of the prefixes and suffixes that form the beginning or end of many polysyllabic medical terms. Numerous other languages, including Arabic, Chinese, Dutch, French, Gaelic, German, Hindu, Italian, Japanese, Persian, Portuguese and Spanish, have also contributed to the great treasury of medical terms .


Last Editorial Review: 9/20/2012

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