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10 medical words you thought you knew


For many, thoughts of October immediately wend to visions of changing leaves, warm sweet beverages, and costumed children plying neighbors for candy. But October can make a further claim on our interest: it’s also known as Health Literacy Month.

As anyone who has taken an anatomy class or tried to read a prescription may attest, it can be difficult to interpret those long, Greek- and Latin-based medical words! However, sometimes these complicated-sounding words hide a simple meaning. So, while we could sit here and define rare terms like latissimus and pharmacopoeia, it seems more interesting to talk about common medical terms we all know—and their corresponding, yet less well-known official names. In honor of Health Literacy Month, we’ve compiled a list of ten of these unusual medical terms, from borborygmus to horripilation. Feel free to use them to impress your doctor.


Commonly known as: Official medical term Etymological notes:
runny nose rhinorrhea Greek rhino- (of the nose) and -rrhoia (flow)
dry mouth xerostomiath Greek xero-(dry) and stoma (mouth)
rumbling in the stomach borborygmus Greek (same sense)
pins and needles paraesthesia Greek para- (beside, beyond, irregular) and aisthesis (sensation)
earwax cerumen Latin cera (wax)
crying lachrymation Latin lachryma (tear)
hair standing on end; goosebumps horripilation Latin horrere (to stand on end) and pilus (hair)
scab eschar Latin eschara (scar or scab)
nosebleed epistaxis Greek,  epi (upon, in addition) and staxis (dripping)
“every four hours” QQH (quarta quaque hora) Latin (see quarter and hour)

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