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You shouldn't have to carry a dictionary with you to the doctor's office, even if it's a weightless app on your smartphone.

My doctor speaks to me in words I understand, but not everyone is so lucky.

If you're ill and want to know what's wrong, you likely don't want to hear a diagnosis in what some call "medispeak," or medical jargon.

Knowing some Greek and Latin syllables might help you through the word morass.

"Pneum" and "pulmon" mean the lungs have been examined.

Pneumonia hits the lungs and makes breathing difficult. The pulmonary artery travels from the heart to the lungs.

"Ren" and "nephron" are associated with the kidneys.

I'm not sure whether this is how Reno, Nev., was named.

"Phleb" or "ven" means the veins are involved.

"Gloss" or "lingu" means the tongue is affected.

Words using "peps" or "pept" indicate a stomach ailment. A peptic ulcer is one in the stomach.

"Rrhagia" involves bleeding. "Itis" is an inflammation. "Blephar" indicates your eyelid is the problem.

Blepharospasm is an eyelid twitching.

"Hep" means the liver is involved, as in hepatitis. No relation to a hepcat.

An "electrocardiogram" is a test that measures electrical waves from the heart. Its abbreviation, though, is EKG. Does that seem right?

A "contusion" is the same as a bruise. A "laceration" is a cut. Which of those sound more bearable, the big words or the small ones?

An "occlusion" means something is being blocked. A "herniation" is a rupture. (That's a good one to understand.) A "lesion" is some sort of abnormal spot.

If you have a positive biopsy, "positive" may make you think it's good. A positive biopsy means something has shown up in testing, which can be bad.

Have you been experiencing "lachrymation"? Maybe you are sad about something. That means crying. It comes from the Latin word for "tear." I guess a place where people gather to weep is a lachrymation point. (I know, a pun too far.)

Suppose you have a bad case of "cerumen." How will you get through it? Don't worry, you have earwax. You will survive, and once the doctor takes care of it, you will be able to keep the TV at a lower volume.

What is "horripilation"? It's not far from how it sounds -- some sort of horror. It's goosebumps, as in when your hair seems to stand straight up. (OK, you probably wouldn't see a doctor for that.)

I propose that the forms you fill out before you see the doctor include a question on whether you have studied Greek or Latin. Then the doctor can decide how to speak to you.


A few people wrote to me with dying phrases, which I asked for recently.

A couple of phrases mentioned dimes. When someone asks whether he or she should spend money on something, you, not caring, might answer, "It's your dime."

It means the money belongs to the questioner, who should decide. Things rarely cost only a dime these days. And you probably don't need to think too hard about spending a dime. You can see why the phrase is dying off.

For many of the same reasons, you probably haven't seen a place called a "five and dime," or general store, in a while.

Do phones still ring off the hook? Not many phones still have the switch hooks that held the phone receiver. And we rarely hang up the phone anymore. We press the "end" button, which sounds harsh.

Telephones don't have "party lines" anymore, thankfully. These were used in rural areas. Several houses would be connected to one phone line, and only one person could make a call at a time. But all the others on the line could listen in, which meant no privacy. Ashley Madison, the online dating service that had its database hacked, ended up being similar to a party line.

One reader reminded me that visual symbols are also a form of language. The phone handle icon on a cellphone will probably look odd to people in the next generation trying to make a phone call. It looks like a side view of a particularly sturdy Frisbee. Or is it a person with two front teeth missing?

And when we save a file on the computer, the little symbol we click on is a floppy disk. I'm sure floppy disks are still used in some places, but many other ways are available now to save data.

Sources: Oxford Dictionaries, Merriam-Webster,, Portland Community College,,,, Health Literacy, National Library of Medicine


ActiveStyle on 06/10/2019

Print Headline: Medispeak is for what ails you

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