Saturday, February 28, 2009

Haima, haimatos--blood

Having had such fun on the Greek and Latin roots for heart (kardia and cor, respectively), I have decided to devote posts for the foreseeable future to the fascinating realm of medical and anatomical vocabulary, the lion's share of which derives from Greek and Latin root words. Thinking about the word cardiology and that which the cardiac pump does for one, one naturally moves on to the circulatory system and the primary fluid which runs through the veins, arteries, and capillaries, the predominant root word for which stems from Greek:

Haima, haimatos—blood {em, -emia, haemo-, hem, hemat-, hemato-, hemo-}

In the next few posts, I will discuss the fascinating etymologies using this Greek root word and its multiple spelling permutations.

If one is anemic, or afflicted with anemia, one is etymologically "without blood," via the Greek prefix a, an: without (note as well that the Latin suffix -ia means "an abnormal or pathological condition," contained in such pathologies as hemophilia, amnesia, insomnia, anorexia, paranoia, hysteria, pneumonia, hypochondria, aphasia, bulimia, neuralgia, mastalgia, and myopia). Hence, if one is deficient in blood, it is easy to see that anemia can refer to deficiencies in hemoglobin count, and/or erythrocyte count or volume per unit of blood.

Hemoglobin (short for hematinoglobulin), deriving also from the Latin root word globus (sphere, somewhat spherical mass) refers to a molecule that consists of four globular protein subunits (dubbed alpha and beta) that provide a structure for ferrous heme groups that bond oxygen atoms to themselves by means of iron and in such a way acts as the primary carrier or transport system of oxygen in the blood stream (for an informative article vis a vis hemoglobin, please check out where you will discover via some fairly sophisticated illustrations that illuminate very well why the Greek word for blood and the Latin word for sphere were used to coin this word).

Hemophilia (or the British English version haemophilia) is a fairly rare (about 1 in 10,000) ailment or pathological condition primarily present among males, where the blood fails to clot normally; the blood thereby is deficient in clotting factors, such as platelet count and other coagulatory agents. Note that the word itself, other than the Greek word for blood, also contains the common Greek root word philein, "to love." Hence, a hemophiliac is someone who "loves blood" because they lose it so readily, and hence need more and more. Note that a deficiency in coagulation factor VIII is the most common cause of hemophilia.

A hemorrhoid arrives via the Greek verb rhein to flow (also giving us words such as diarrhea, amenorrhea, and rheumatism); hence, a hemorrhoid is an excessive "flowing of the blood," which causes a tumid mass of swollen anal tissue (that is, blood flowing where it should not be), which is the same problem found in a hemorrhage, which is even worse since it refers to blood gushing out of a blood vessel when it should not be, such as a brain hemorrhage. A hemorrhage can also refer to a large loss of anything, such as share values hemorrhaging in a severe bear market.

Hematology is the study of the blood and those hematogenous organs that produce the blood, a vast discipline which the hematologist makes her life study of, that is, the study of diseases and disorders of the blood and the blood-forming tissues. I will discuss the pathology of blood related to its etymological origins in my next post.

n.b. The Latin root for blood, sanguis, sanguinis, has been largely ignored by the medical community. The most useful word that comes from this root word is sanguine, so named because an abundance of the medieval humor ‘blood’ was thought to make someone sanguine, or ‘cheerful’ and ‘optimistic.’

Interested in even more English vocabulary words that come from the Greek and Latin roots for blood, or all the roots mentioned above for the different maladies ending in the suffix -ia? All of the maladies mentioned above can easily be linguistically diagnosed with a thorough understanding of their Greek and Latin root words, demystification of English vocabulary words is what the site is all about, not to mention the demystifying of numerous SAT prep words and GRE prep words. You may want to check out the most comprehensive Greek and Latin roots dictionary available today; a Greek and Latin roots poster is also available, which beautifully illustrates not only the sheer power of Greek and Latin roots as they form the very semantic structure of the English language but also contains a prolific number of GRE and SAT vocabulary words, and a vast host of medical vocabulary.  Or, if you're looking to learn vocabulary for the SAT or GRE verbal section, check out, where vocabulary is taught to you via an Adaptive Reinforcement Engine in a fun and engaging way which at the same time enhances your memory.