Learn Greek & Latin



So you thought you were taking a Biology class. Bwahahahahaha.  Funny. That was my first thought too. You might soon find that your Anatomy class will feel a bit like a Foreign Language class. And honestly, it’s not a bad way to think about it. If you approach this class with the mindset that you are also learning a new language, you will be training yourself to define all the words that you do not understand.

Around 90% of the current medical terminology is composed of 1,200 Greek and Latin roots.  By breaking down terms into the prefixes, roots and/or suffixes, you can start to see the repeated patterns of these word segments. In your textbook, there is a biomedical lexicon usually found in one of the appendices, or posted on the back cover. This is a very useful tool for learning the most common word elements that appear in your textbook.

By “dissecting” words and learning the meaning of each part, you will become much more comfortable with this complex medical language.  I like to take the word and then form a phrase around the meanings. Here are a few examples:


oligo – a few                       dendro – branch               cyte – cell

a cell with a few branches



gastro – stomach               entero – small intestine         ology – study of

the study of the small intestine


This method doesn’t work with eponyms, words that are named after people such as Schwann cell or Peyer’s patches.  Acronyms and abbreviations pose a similar problem in that they are not as informative as to what the meaning of the word is. Examples of these are CAT scan and DNA respectively.  With these words, you should take additional time to write out their meanings and try to establish a connection between the word and its’ meaning.

Is this challenging? Absolutely. However, it is important to take the time and learn the appropriate phrases, spellings, and even pronunciations. Precision is key when taking care of patients. In my last article, I spoke about treating your studies with the care that you would give a patient. Precision in your language, your calculations, your notetaking could mean the difference between life and death.

To summarize, paying special attention to the word elements of most of the medical terminology you will be using in your classes would put you at a great advantage in developing your scientific vocabulary.

Think Outside the Book today!

Dawn Samantha

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