Say What Now?

16 12 2011

Let’s start with supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.  To most people, this infamous word out of Mary Poppins makes a lot more sense than the medical jargon that health care professionals spout off day-to-day.  Medicine is exploding with amazing words, some that mean crazy things, some which are unnecessarily fancy, some that you never actually use, and some that are just plain fun to say.

For your entertainment, I’ve put together a list of my personal favorites:

Ala—describes any wing-shaped structure in the body.  We have a bunch, the most obvious being the fleshy parts of your nose over your nostrils that flare out when you’re annoyed.

Eupnea—Normal breathing.  Why there is a need for this word is a mystery to me.

Nystagmus—A fun one that describes these special eye twitches where your eyeball “beats” really fast in one direction without you making it.  Youtube it.  Pretty cool.

Koro (not to be confused with Kuru)—a legitimate psych disease in Japan where men believe their penises are shrinking, after which they will literally die.  Kuru, on the other hand, is a brain prion (like mad cow) that you get from eating other people. Yummy.

Infundibulum—like ala, it’s an adjective that means anything in the body that is funnel-shaped.

Pyknosis— means the nucleus in a cell shrinks into almost nothing

Dysdiadochokinesia—Easily my favorite word. Means uncoordinated fine motor skills, and, more importantly, a cerebellar issue.

Myokymia—that little twitch in the corner of your eye that comes with being tired

Trichotillomania—compulsion to pull out one’s own hair.  Often these people eat the hair too, which can form something called a bezoar (which is basically a big nasty hairball too big to get out of the stomach)

Coryza—Runny nose.

Borborygmus—the growling sound your intestines make when hungry

Amaxoapraxia—loss of the ability to drive due to inadequate motor skills

Poikilocytosis—red blood cells with spiny bits of cell membrane.

Violaceous—purple.  I know, this one is overkill to me too.  What’s so unprofessional about the word purple?

Gluteal cleft—anatomically correct name for the butt crack.  Because butt crack, too, sounds unprofessional.

And that doesn’t even touch the medication names, like hydrochorothiazide.  Try thiazoladinedione 3 times fast. (if you really want to, it’s thigh-a-ZO-luh-deen-DYE-own).  Doctors never write these out, they write HCTZ and TZD instead.  Lab tests have great names once you take away the acronyms.  For example, a HIDA scan becomes Hepatobiliary Iminodiacetic acid scan.  The other fantastic ones are in tropical and infectious disease.  My favorite fungus?  Malassezia furfur, hands down.  Though, sadly, the scientists are changing its name soon.

You might look at these words and think that they were designed to be mysterious, unpronounceable, and downright made just to confuse everyone.  Not so. Like they say in the classic children’s story of triumph over adversity Akeelah and the Bee (which, yes, I enjoyed), “Big words are just made of little words.”  Basic knowledge of Greek and Latin roots gets you 90% toward understanding all of these.  It also takes 90% of the mystery out and makes the words a little less fun to say.

The real money is in the endings.  Here’s a quick guide: anything ending in –itis is an infection.  Anything ending in –osis is just an organ issue without an infection.  An –oscopy means someone’s gonna shove a tube with a camera down (or up) an orifice to see what’s going on.  Anyone doing an –ectomy is going to lop a bit of your body off completely, and an –otomy means poking holes in your body.  See, that’s pretty easy to remember!

Let’s take for example the longest “real” word in the English language.  Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis.  This condition really exists.  Medical professionals never use this word, we just call it silicosis (which is a lot less intriguing, right?).  So let’s break it down into mentally digestible chunks:

Pneumo = lungs.

Ultramicroscopic = smaller than small.  Kind of speaks for itself.

Silico = silica is the offending material in this disease

Volcano = Another description of the offending disease—volcanic material

Coni = from the Greek word that means dust

Osis = remember that this means an issue that isn’t an infection. Here, it means inflammation.

Put them together: this word means a condition of lung (pneumo) inflammation (-osis) caused by super fine (ultramicroscopic) particles of volcanic silica dust (silicovolcanoconi).  Basically, silicosis.

Not as cool now, huh?

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2 responses

17 12 2011
Emily Ricotta

Hah, I really enjoyed this post. Probably because I love science and etymology. Yup, I’m a geek. 🙂

20 12 2011
Jeff Welko

Sadly, M furfur goes the way of Moraxella, P. carinii, and other taxonomic tragedies. Since microbiologists can’t invent new microbes, they are left with changing the names of some old ones for excitement.

I still rate borborygmi as my fave!

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