In my novel, The Divine Meddler, the protagonist, Lou Skalney, is a bookworm. I would guess, so are many of you. Is there a medical term for that?

Medical Terminology

Have you ever read the report of a medical procedure, a medical history write-up, or messages between doctors? Before you say “no,” you will find all that in your hospital’s and medical office’s records that are available to you now online. My hospital system’s record is “My Chart.” I log in and voila! There, you would not be wrong if you said, “It’s all Greek to me!”

Medical terms are a combination of Greek and Latin word roots, connecting vowels, and endings. Their parts go together like Lego blocks. At least, that’s what I told my Medical Terminology students on the first day of class, when they smiled for the first time.


(Too Many Initials)

If that is not confusing enough for the layman, we (over) use initials, rather than pronounce the full name of the condition. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease is COPD. As the name implies –  to quote Taber’s Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary, ed. 17, “Disease process that causes decreased ability of the lungs to perform their function of ventilation.” Several conditions fall under COPD designation: chronic bronchitis, pulmonary emphysema, and chronic asthma. Treatment varies depending on the specific condition.

There’s also

  • CVA (Cerebral vascular accident)…a stroke
  • TIA (Transischemic attacks)…mini-strokes
  • MI (Myocardial Infarction)…heart attack
  • UCHD (Usual Childhood Diseases – found in medical histories)

You get the idea.

Lego-block construction

A medical term covers two elements. What body part is involved? & What do we want to say about it? Let’s take the gallbladder and mix and match word parts so that we describe different conditions and actions related to the gall bladder.

 First we must give it a complicated name, otherwise how could hospitals charge a fortune to fix it? We know the gallbladder is a sac that holds bile, to be released as needed for digestion. “Cyst” is the word root for sac. (Yes, I know we also call a bump or growth a cyst, but in a way, even then, it’s a “sac’o cells” if you will. But in this case, we mean a sac that holds liquid bile. The word root for bile is “chole.” …..So a gall bladder is a cholecyst. That’s the body part we’re talking about.

What do we want to say about it? Is it infected? The ending parts of medical terms tell what we are saying about the body part. “Itis” is the ending that means infection. …So chole-cyst-itis means an infection of the gall bladder. Notice we name the condition of the body part first.

What is causing the infection? Maybe a collection of gallstones. “Lith” is the word root for stone, and “iasis” means condition. If we want to say the patient has the condition of gallstones in the gall bladder, that person has Chole (bile) lith – iasis, or “ Cholelithiasis.”

In order to make these word parts readable and pronounceable, we use “o” or “e” to connect the parts when needed. Here, we have a handy “i” in the ending.

So, our patient has cholecystitis secondary to (because of) cholelithiasis and will need to have the gall bladder removed. This is where the patient signs permission for a “cholecystectomy” “Ectomy means “removal of.”

We must be careful here. “Ectomy” means removal of but “otomy” means incision into… BIG DIFFERENCE BETWEEN REMOVING AND CUTTING INTO. Two little letters (ec and ot) separate the two. Not to mention, “ostomy,” that means making a new opening. A colo (large intestine) ostomy – colostomy- makes a new opening for the large intestine to drain outside the body into a colostomy bag.

Here’s another example of mixing and matching word parts. The word root for stomach is “gastr, so the tube that is inserted into the patient’s stomach because he cannot swallow, is called a “gastrostomy” tube, because the tube makes a new opening into the stomach.

Make up your own words

Once you get the hang of this, you can better understand your medical reports. Perhaps it will lead you to ask your doctor more in depth questions. If you enjoy this “Lego” word building, create your own do-it-yourself- words —note to Sci-fi writers.

Did you wonder what a photo of a library has to do with building medical terms?

My protagonist is a bookworm of the highest order. What if being a bookworm were a disease?

Symptoms of the literary condition include the desire to fondle the cover, sniff the pages, and collect more books than you can read in a lifetime. The library is your Eden, and every book a shiny red apple.

So what would you call becoming a bookworm?  Here’s what I came up with—“wormoliteriasis.”

Feel free to share  your word creations in the Comments section.