Wet read: Now that sounds cool

By C. Douglas Phillips, MD, FACR
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Dr. Phillips is a Professor in the Departments of Radiology, Neurosurgery, and Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, and the Director of the Division of Neuroradiology in the Department of Radiology, University of Virginia Health Systems, Charlottesville, VA. He is also a member of the editorial board of this journal.

As I discussed once, a long time ago, medicine, like many other fields, has a language that is designed to be somewhat obscure. We try to avoid the language, as it isn't always in anyone's best interest, but there it is. You've got to use the verbiage when you're doing your job. This little blurb is about the words, however, and not necessarily how you use them in a sentence. I love medical words-mostly anatomic terms. Some of them are so lyrical, so mystical, and almost magical in their tonal variations and cadence that they make me get all misty-eyed. I've asked people their favorites for years, and everyone I know can come up with at least 4 words that they just love saying. They are usually well versed on the meanings, and maybe that is a plus. You love the word, so you have to get it straight and know what it means. This is particularly important with the anatomic terms, some of which are of Latin derivation or very complex in development. I think it's great that people develop their vocabulary this way. Here are a few of my favorites:

Induseum griseum. Okay, that's 2 words, but maybe you can get the lyricism. You can't say these without allowing your head to slightly perch back and closing your eyes. Smooth and silky in your mouth, like fine wine.

Puncture. As in "groin puncture." I've heard people say "groin stick," and it just cheapens the whole thing. Puncture puts in my mind's eye an inner tube getting stuck, and the air whistling out. So, you're the hero when the blood doesn't all rush out, and the patient doesn't deflate.

Gyrus fornicatus. Get your mind out of the gutter. Anyway, I beat you there.

Relaxation. As in "relaxation times," which prior to MRI meant the after-work cocktail. Who among us can't picture protons with their feet up, drinking a beer, and watching American Idol ?

Coccyx. This word went from an also-ran in the top-10 anatomic terms to a near top-5 listing with the movie Napoleon Dynamite . When Grandma broke her coccyx at the sand dunes (courtesy of Uncle Rico's mispronunciation), I was forever enamored.

Hyperostosis frontalis interna. You can't help but bob your head, alter the emphasis on syllables, and say this like you're reading a limerick.

Here are some other favorites I've heard from residents and fellows: postcoital headache , toxic megacolon (no kidding), vasovagal, X-ray dye, and digital exam (the digit is not being examined, and it is neither analog nor digital). These are all pretty good. How about these (which are not real, they just sound good): osteopathica Battlestar Galactica or Marchiafavi-Big Audio Dynamite? (Thanks, Dr. Otte).

I consider myself fortunate to be immersed in this rich terminology. But be careful. If you're not careful, improper utilization of it can get you slapped in proper company.

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Wet read: Now that sounds cool.  Appl Radiol. 

September 19, 2007
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