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Although medical terms have been drawn from many languages, a large majority are from Greek and Latin.

The long and formidable sounding medical terms are a combination of words which describe parts of the body, a function, or a condition. The basic terms occur over and over again in various combinations. A knowledge of the meaning of the roots, prefixes, and suffixes enables the student to analyze the medical terms into component parts. This is of the greatest aid in learning to understand the vocabulary of medicine. Some names of diseases given by the ancients and still used to-day are, in many instances, simply descriptions of the outstanding symptoms; for example, hydro-phobia-fear of water-for rabies.

1. It is estimated that about three-fourths of the English medical terminology is of Greek origin. The main reason for this is that the Greeks were the founders of rational medicine in the golden age of Greek civilization in the 5th Century B.C. The Hippocratic School and, later on, Galen (the Greek from Asia Minor who lived in Rome in the 2nd century A.D.) formulated the theories which dominated medicine up to the beginning of the 18th Century. The Hippocratics were the first to describe diseases based on observation, and the names given by them to many conditions are still used today, for example, arthritis, nephritis, pleuritis (pleurisy).

2. The second reason for the large number of Greek medical terms is that the Greek language lends itself easily to the building of compounds. When new terms were needed, with the rapid expansion of medical science during the last century, Greek words or Latin words with Greek endings were used to express the new ideas, conditions, or instruments. The new words follow the older models so closely that it is impossible to distinguish the two by their forms. Such recent words as appendicitis, creatinine, cystoscope, epinephrine, streptococcus, and many others do not appear different from the classical terms. The fact is that about one-half of our medical terminology is less than a century old.

3. The third reason for using the classical roots is that they form an international language, easily understood by anyone familiar with the subject matter.



The terminology of the modern medicine is the most complicated terminological system of the modern science. The total amount of medical terms remains unknown, but its estimated amount exceeds one million terms. You realize that it is impossible to learn one million words, even for an intelligent person, because we use in our native language only several thousands words. Our course will help you to understand and use about fifty thousand main medical terms. This course teaches you how medical terms are ‘built’ or ‘put together’ instead of just memorizing lots of medical words and their meanings. You will learn to recognize the meaning of a medical term by dividing the word into its three basic component parts: the prefix, root and suffix. By knowing the meanings of the prefixes, suffixes, and root words, you can easily figure out the meaning of a medical term.

For example, if you see a medical term containing the root word ‘cardi’ and the suffix ‘itis’, you know that the term has to do with an ‘inflamed’ (itis) ‘heart’ (cardi).

This technique of word building is a simple and straightforward way to learn medical terminology without long hours of memorizing the medical vocabulary.

· You will learn Latin and Greek terminological elements.

· You will be able to figure out unfamiliar words by recognizing their building blocks from which they are constructed.

· You will be able to construct many words correctly by learning to put these building blocks together in the proper way.

· You will be able to determine the meanings of thousands of words that you have never seen before and which are used in medicine.


Greek and Latin medical terms can be broken down into one or more word parts. For simplicity in explanation, let's say that there are four possible word parts, and any given medical term may contain one, some, or all of these parts:

1. root terminological elements (a shorthand notation “root”)

2. final terminological elements (a shorthand notation “suffixes”)


Combining vowels

An example of a word with three of the above parts is the medical term pericarditis, which means inflammation of the outer layer of the heart. Pericarditis can be divided into three parts:

· peri - card - itis

Once divided into its essential parts, pericarditis can be translated:

· the prefix peri- translates to surrounding,

· the root –card- translates to heart, and

· the suffix –itis translates to inflammation.

Hence, pericarditis is an inflammation of the area surrounding the heart, or an inflammation of the outer layer of the heart, anatomically known as the pericardium.


Medical terms always consist of at least one root, although they may contain more. The root of a word is that part which contains the essential meaning of the word. An example of this was seen above in the term pericarditis. The root of the word - card - refers to the heart, so any prefix or suffix added to the root (card) will only function to add to the specificity of that word. An example of this would be the prefix brady, which means slow. If "brady" is added to the root "card", the term bradycard - which roughly means slow heart - is created. Then, if the suffix ia - which means abnormal state - is added to "bradycard", the medical term bradycardia is formed. The translation of bradycardia (brady-card-ia) is slow - heart - abnormal state, or the abnormal state of a slow heart rate.


Linking or Combining Vowels: As was discussed above, a medical term must have at least one root, but may not have a prefix and/or a suffix. An example of this is the term sternocleidomastoid, which is a muscle that has attachments at the sternum, the clavicle, and the mastoid. The term sternocleidomastoid can be divided into three parts (three roots, in this case): stern - o - cleid - o - mastoid. Notice that there are vowels between the three roots. These are linking or combining vowels, which serve to make a term easier to pronounce. The vowel used most of the time is o, but other vowels such as i and a are also used. Combining vowels are often used between roots and suffixes or roots and other roots, but they are NOT used between prefixes and roots.


Date: 2016-03-03; view: 2483

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