Sunday, March 22, 2009

#2: Neuron: sinew, tendon, nerve; Nervus: sinew, vigor

Many good returns, fans of etymology, Greek and Latin roots, and medical terminology! As with most academic disciplines, the learning of specialized vocabulary in the medical field can take years, but a great way to get a true leg up on learning this vast medical lexicon (which only gains more and more new words, or neologisms, on a daily basis) is understanding word origins, especially the Greek root words (and to a smaller extent the Latin roots) that form the linguistic infrastructure or core of medical vocabulary. You will recall that in my last weekly post, I began illuminating the Greek root word neuron; this medical vocabulary blog offering will focus on the study of neurology and the disciplines that neurologists, or those physicians that study the nervous system and its related ailments (neuropathology) specialize in, and the medical vocabulary primarily that they and only adventitiously those steeped in neuroscience (the field of study devoted to the nervous system, which includes multitudinous disciplines as neuroanatomy, neurobiology, neurolinguistics, and neural networks) might encounter on a quotidian, or daily, basis. Let's review again the primary root words:

Neuron—sinew, tendon, nerve {neuro-}

Nervus (Lat.)—sinew, nerve, vigor, determination

Neuropathology is the study of the pathology, or diseases of, the nervous system; neuropathy, on the other hand, is the particular disease, ailment, or abnormality of the nervous system: neuropathology catalogues the symptomatology of various and sundry neuropathies. Note the root that forms a major stem of these words, the Greek root word pathos—suffering, disease, feeling, passion {-path, patho-, -pathy}, from which we get such English vocabulary words as sympathy, empathy, psychopath, apathetic, and pathogen.

A neuroma is a "mass of nerve" tissue that comprises a tumor. The Greek suffix -oma means "tumor" or "mass," and gives us such medical terms as lipoma, carcinoma, glaucoma,
melanoma, myxoma, and neurofibromatosis. Note that the word "tumor" comes from the Latin root word tumeo, tumere, tumui—to swell, which gives rise to such English derivatives as tumid, tumescence, contumelious, and tumorigenesis, et al.

Neurophysiology is the study of the functioning of the nervous system within a living organism, most especially the human. The word origin of physiology itself comes from the Greek root word physis—nature {physi-, physio-}, which is in turn related to the Greek root phyein—to produce, cause to grow, bring forth, which gives us such English vocabulary words as physician, physics, hypophysis, and even imp!

Neuropsychology is that specialized branch of psychology (the study of the mind, via the Greek root psyche--mind, soul, spirit) that deals with the interrelationship between primarily the brain (but also other parts of the central nervous system) and the functions of the brain, including memory and language. Neuropharmacology (via the Greek root pharmakon—remedy, drug) deals with the effects of various pharmaceuticals on the nervous system (naturally the words pharmacist and pharmacy derive from this same Greek root). Neurodegenerative pathologies deal with etiologies, or causes thereof, of gradual but progressive failure of neurological functions. A neurectomy is the surgical cutting out and removal of a nerve or part of a nerve (performed during neurosurgery by a neurosurgeon); the word origin of the suffix -tomy is derived from the Greek root word tomos—a cut, cutting, slice, section, part of a book {-tomy}, from which anatomy, appendectomy, vasectomy, hysterectomy, atom, and entomologist, to name a very few. And then there is one of my favorite words, psychoneuroimmunology, a field of medical study that analyzes the influence of emotional states (as stress) and the functioning of the nervous system on the immune system; cf. the uncommon word kedogenous, or pertaining to pathologies produced by stress specific to worries and anxiety.

My next medical post will focus on words derived from the Greek root word tomos: a cut, cutting, slice, section, part of a book

Interested in even more English vocabulary words that come from the Greek and Latin roots for neuron and nervus? Or the multiplicitous derivatives that come from the Greek root pathos: suffering, disease, feeling, passion, or the many vocabulary words that arise from tumeo, tumere, tumui—to swell and its related root words, such as protuberance, tumultuous, and tubercle? Hundreds of English vocabulary words are derived from the same Greek root words that gives us physician: phyein—to produce, cause to grow, bring forth and physis—nature {physi-, physio-}; yet another highly prolific root word is tomos—a cut, cutting, slice, section, part of a book {-tomy}. All of the word roots mentioned above are accessible via the etymology site , on which 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.