Sunday, March 29, 2009

Tomos: a cut, cutting, slice, section, part of a book

Grammatical greetings, fans of etymology, Greek and Latin roots, and devotees of medical terminology! Today's posting will consider not only medical vocabulary as it relates to the Greek root tomos, but also common SAT words as well. As with most academic disciplines, the learning of specialized vocabulary in the medical field can take years, as can studying for the SAT, but a great way to get a true leg up on learning our vast English and medical lexicon (which only gains more and more new words, or neologisms, on a daily basis) is understanding word origins, especially Greek and Latin roots that form the linguistic infrastructure or core of SAT and medical vocabulary.
You will recall that in my last weekly post, I finished discussing the Greek root word neuron and all related neurological vocabulary; this general and medical vocabulary blog offering will focus on word origins concerning the Greek root word tomos: a cut, cutting, slice, section, part of a book. Numerous SAT-level and medical terms come from this root word, so let's get started with easier words leading up to the more difficult:

Tomos—a cut, cutting, slice, section, part of a book {-tomy}
n.b.: you can view the above root at the site or click on the root word itself to see the beautiful word tree I will be discussing!
Temnein—to cut
Templum (Lat.)—temple, a place cut for auguries

Beginning with physics in relation to the root word tomos, the ancients believed that an atom could ‘not’ be ‘cut’ since it was the smallest known particle of matter (today we believe that the core of the atom itself is comprised of protons and neutrons, of which they themselves are comprised of different types of particles called quarks, now believed to be the "atoms," or 'uncuttable" objects the ancient Greeks believed in), All we know for certain is that our knowledge of the atom is probably not as accurate as the atomic clock, comprised of cesium that contain highly predictable and regular oscillation frequencies. Physicists and chemists do discuss such ideas as atomic number (the number of protons...via the Greek root protos: the nucleus of an atom, for instance, oxygen has 8); atomic weight (approximately equal to the number of protons and neutrons...via the Latin root word neuter: the nucleus...via the Latin root word nux, nucis: nut).

Anatomy is the "cutting away" of the body in order to reveal its intricate and complex internal anatomical structure, indeed, in order to study the body, one must ‘cut up’ its parts to reveal them (although with advanced imaging techniques and virtual reality anatomy programs this is becoming less and less practiced, at least for those in medical school). And, speaking of medical procedures or operations in which parts of the body are cut away, consider the tonsillectomy, in which the tonsils are "cut away" (note the "ec" here, which comes from the Greek preposition Ec, Ex—out of, from), and the appendectomy, in which the vestigial vermiform (via the Latin roots vermis: worm and forma: shape) or cecal appendix is taken out (once thought to have helped hominids digest cellulose and now thought to perhaps both produce and protect bacteria for use in the colon). Much more in my next medical vocabulary post will discuss various operations or surgical procedures of this ilk.

Entomology, or the study of insects (an insect has been ‘cut into’ three pieces: the head, thorax, and abdomen; this root word comes to us via the Latin root seco, secare, secui, sectum—to cut)
An entomologist studies insects, which are ‘cut into’ sections.

A "dichotomy" is etymologically something "cut into two," and denotes a division into two usually unrelated opinions or view, such as the dichotomy between the views of materialists, who only believe in a material universe, and those who also believe in a metaphysical realm, or that which resides beyond the province of mere atomistic viewpoints. Another interesting dichotomy can exist between medical practices and those of the chiropractor (the latter derived from the Greek word cheir: hand and the Greek verb prassein—to make, do, achieve {pract, prax}).

The word epitome comes to us via Latin epitome, ‘summary;’ a ‘summary’ is a concise ‘cutting’ from a larger work. An epitome today is also a ‘representative’ or ‘characteristic cutting’ of a group, e.g. Nancy was the epitome of what a great hairstylist should be. To "epitomize" someone or something is to take a "cutting" from them, that is, be a typical example, such as conduct that "epitomizes" excellence.

To contemplate originally meant to meditate or consider ‘thoroughly’ in a ‘temple.’ And a temple in and of itself is etymologically a place "cut" for auguries, that is, those prophetic rituals performed to foresee the future (for a full discussion of the word "augury" and "inauguration," check out my discussion of Barack Obama's inauguration and how the word inauguration works). A similar word to the word contemplation is the word "consider," which comes from the Latin root sidus, sideris, star; to truly consider a situation is to look to the stars for inspiration, much as astrologists do.

My next nearly pure medical post will discuss GRE vocabulary and continue focusing on words derived from the Greek root word tomos, e.g.:

Interested in word origin? In the power of Greek and Latin roots as the core of English vocabulary? Want even more English vocabulary words that come from the Greek and Latin roots for tomos? Or more English vocabulary words that derive from the Latin verb seco, secare, to cut, or the Greek root word protos, first? Or all the other subsidiary roots mentioned above? 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 includes 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.