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MEDICAL TERMINOLOGY. WHERE DO MEDICAL TERMS COME FROM? 


Latin has been dead for over a thousand years so why do doctors still insist on saying olecranon when elbow could suffice or phalanx for finger? Listening to two doctors banter you can get the feeling that Julius Caesar would feel right at home joining into the conversation. 

Every profession creates a lexicon of jargon familiar only to their initiates like the secret handshakes of Freemasons. But contrary to what you might think, in medicine the reason we speak in abracadaver (sic) is not to be able to ‘talk behind your back’ in front of you, to look smart, be pretentious, or to complicate, hide, obfuscate, confuse, perplex, hornswoggle, or discombobulate. The reason we do it is for precision. 

Medical record keeping started long before computers and the ability to record sound and images. Doctors had to rely on handwritten notes to capture the essence of each encounter. Specific descriptions and terms were needed to avoid confusing their allied health peers and themselves on referencing notes later. The solution was the creation of a dictionary of unambiguous medical terms we could use to achieve the rigor we needed for our records to be useful. As much of this groundbreaking work began with the Ancient Greeks and Romans their influence has persisted to this day. So much so that medical terms are almost a form of universal Esperanto across countries. For example, the English term for your upper arm bone is Humerus. Same in German. In Spanish it's húmero. In French it's humérus. And in Italian it's omero.  

Now it is said that a picture says a thousand words, so let me paint you one. Suppose you fall from your bicycle and break your elbow. In the ER I take a look and call the Orthopedic resident for advice. If I say “yo s/he broke their elbow,” the resident has a very vague image to work with. It might not seem like it, but the elbow’s a big place. The grumpy orthopod will be ripped away from the warm call-room and forced to come down and see for themselves. With my medispeak medical terms lexicon I have a rich descriptive glossary to pull from: olecranon, styloid, epicondyle, ulnar groove, anterior fat pad, lateral, medial, superior, inferior, dorsal, ventral. With it I can weave an articulate image so robust that the orthopedic surgeon can use my vocabulary as their eyes and give me appropriate instructions over the phone. I get be to the hero getting you on your way quickly, and they can finish watching a House episode in the call room. Win-win-win. Precise terminology is power.

In this section of the website I've collected a big list of commonly used and queried medical names and terms of art for your erudition. Bon appetit.