Monday, February 27, 2017


In high school, I took mostly science classes.  At McGill I majored in physiology - the study of the human body.  I was a good student, but even the sharpest tools in the shed can use some One of the best things that happened during my science studies was realizing that a few Greek and Latin word-bits were the key to understanding scientific terminology. Srsly, most medical words are just 2 or 3 latin bits put together, and once you know a few of these bits, ta da you can read a medical journal, or at the very least question a few jeopardy answers and solve a crossword puzzle (4 letter word for forearm bone = ulna).  Pull these pre- and suf- fixes out, and you sound instantly SMRT.  Or at least smrtr.

One of my favourite medical words, though not my favourite diagnosis, is spondylolisthesis.  Doesn't it just roll off the tongue?  Spon-dillo-list-eesis.  The sound sends shivers down my spine, which is ironic since it refers to a vertebra that has slipped forward.

From a-z, allow me to present my favourite Latin medical bits (said no one ever!).  ABC's for the nerdy baby.

A is for -algia.  Give it a location, and you've got pain!  Metatarsalgia hurts all the way down in your toes, fibromyalgia hurts everywhere, and of course, "not tonight honey, I've got a cephalgia" hurts your partner.

B is for brady-, meaning slow.  Bradycardia is a slow heart beat, the opposite of tachycardia.  For some reason I memorized this as the Brady Bunch is slow, as in from the past, though admittedly they were also 'tacky' so it's a miracle I passed cardiology 101.

C is for chondro, referring to cartilage tissue. As in chondromalacia patella! Meaning 'bad cartilage in the kneecap'.  Lots of you have this.

D is for dendrite, comes from a Greek root word meaning tree.  See what I did there? Root? Tree?  Dendrites are nerve cell extensions that allow for nerve conduction.  We'd be nothing without them.

E is for -esthesia, or nervous sensation.  Pair it with para- and you've got altered nerve sensation.  Ana- and you can't feel nothin'.  Put an A before it if you want to be fancy or British - aesthesia.

F is for fascia, and it holds everything together.  Without it you're just a bag of bones.

G is for -genic, and it gives me cervicogenic dorsalgia.  It tells us where things come from, as in the aforementioned back pain that comes from your neck.

H stands for hyper, which means too much, and also describes my kid after he gets hyperglycaemic.

I is for idio-, best pared with pathic.  Idiopathic means your doctor is an idiot and he doesn't know why you are sick.

J gives us juxta meaning near, positioned well to make juxtaposition.  Which I actually learned in the one English course I had to take. Go figure.

K stands for kinesio- a word that moves me.

L is for lipo, and we do more than just -suction it.  If I point out a blobby cyst on your back (very common), it sounds better to call it a lipoma, than what it really is: a fatty growth.  No offence.

M is for so much! Macro and mega and myo- and mal- and mania... Which I clearly have.

N is for -noia, of the mind and will. This seems beautiful to me, though I can only think to pair it with para (outside of normal). Where are the other noias?

O is for olecranon, a much better word for elbow, dontcha think?

P gives us para - see noia above for the abnormal use, can also mean beside. I regularly deal with paraspinal muscles, which may or may not be abnormal.

Q is for quint as in Mia Quint (Rapoport) our Pilates guru. Mia also happens to be the youngest of a quad of girls, which makes me think her mother should have tried for one more or changed their family name.

R is for retro, meaning backward or behind. And you thought you didn't know latin!

S gives us scapula, a fancier way of saying shoulder blade. Or you could say fleigel, which is Yiddish for a 'wing' and what one patient refers to hers as.

T is for teno, pertaining to the tendons. Tenosynovitis is a great one in theory though not in actuality. 

U stands for -ule, which is little and small and cute! Like a macula, a small discoloured area of skin! Adorable.

V is for a lot of words that may make you blush (venero-, vesiculo-, vulvo-) but vago refers to your vagus nerve, so get your mind out of the gutter.

W gives us direction: -ward, -where, -wise and with-.

X is for xiphi, though I don't often have to describe anything as 'sword like', but I wish I did!

Y is for -ysteria, pertaining to the uterus. Very important in the diagnoses of yesteryear, like hysteria (ungovernable emotional excess!).

Finally, Z is for Zygo- a union or junction. A great part of your face is the zygomatic arch - giving us a stunning cheek bone and also it's fun to say!

What are your favourite words?