Wednesday, January 2, 2013

MT-1: Introduction


Welcome. You have come to a place in your profession where knowledge of English medical terminology is important. You have good English skills but still, the English used in medical books, articles and at conferences probably seems like a totally new language. And it some ways, it is.

But this is true for all professions in all cultures and it doesn't matter what language they speak. When an accountant or a construction worker tries to describe something they are doing at their jobs, it sounds like a different language because so many words are not familiar to you. In English, we have a saying “It's all Greek to me.” meaning I don't understand what the words mean. It's still the English language, but the vocabulary is just unknown to you. Even teenagers do this with language, speaking their own slang that only they seem to understand.

You already have many of the language skills and understand the concepts to make learning medical terminology easy, or at least easier. Terminology means the study of terms, or words. So, let us look at what we already know.

= terminology (ter·mi·nol·o·gy) noun

In many languages, not just English, if we want to give more information about some object (a noun), we can add adjectives. For example:

tall man – What kind of man? = A “tall” man.
young boy – What kind of boy? = A “young” boy.

But there are other times when words are combined to tell us more information about something. For example, look at the following picture:

In general, what are these? They are balls. “Ball” tells us what they are and we could call it a word root, a kind of basic idea that tells us it is and not something else. But they are all different kind of balls, used in different sports, so how do we describe the first ball? It's a “basketball”:

basketball = basket (word root) + ball (word root)

For the sport of basketball, the players throw the ball and try to land it inside the basket. So, you could say that “basket” is another word root. So, to describe the ball we use in this sport, we say “basketball”, the combination of two word roots.

Another way in which we can tell more information about something is to use suffixes. Do you remember that a suffix is a word ending that changes the meaning of the word it is attached to? For example:

teach (word root) + -er (suffix) = teacher; a person who teaches

So, when we add the suffix -er to other words, it can be used to describe the person doing the action. More examples would be singer, a person who sings, and a painter, a person who paints.

But, what makes it sometimes harder to understand is that there are other suffixes that can have the same meaning but used with different words. For example, -ist can also mean a person who does something: a typist, a person who types, and a pianist, a person who plays the piano.

And last, there are prefixes that are added to the beginning of a word to change it's meaning.

re- (prefix) + paint (word root) = repaint; to paint again
un- (prefix) + fair (word root) = unfair; not fair

So, the prefix re- means “to do again”, and un- can mean “not”.

  • terminology is the study of words
  • word root is the part of a word that is the basic idea
  • suffix is added to the end of a word to change the meaning
  • prefix is added to the beginning of a word to change the meaning
  • we can tell more information about something by using different kinds of word combinations such as adjectives used with nouns, word roots added together, and use suffixes and prefixes added to words
These are the basic concepts used in English that you already know and we will use them more in understanding medical terminology. In the following lessons, we will look closely at specific word roots, suffixes and prefixes that will help us understand the English used in medicine.

with exercises

Next Lesson
Where did the medical words come from?