Friday, September 18, 2009

Vocabulary of Medicine

A doctor posted a blog Reflections on the Vocabulary of Medicine. I've always wondered how much time a medical science student has to spend memorizing all those long and eccentric words while studying medical science per se at the same time. Could it be 20% or 1/3 or more of his study time he has to dedicate to this tangentially relevant skill or knowledge? I bet no other division of science has so many words you must learn by heart to be proficient in doing your job. I have a Ph.D in Chemistry. Although tens of thousands of chemical compound names sound mind-boggling, they're way much easier than you would think, because names of chemicals have strict rules in nomenclature. It's true that lots of medical terms are methodically structured. But too many are not. This is even a bigger problem for non-English speakers because they have to learn English as a regular language. Speaking of this, I wonder why medical terms in English started with these weird origins, Greek, Latin, etc. Why can't they use the same words as plumber Joe's words, heart, not cardia, infection, not -itis, etc. Afraid of ambiguity? Combine a few common words in a strict order and then give a clear definition. Instead of, say, "pulmonary hypertension", why not "lung high blood pressure"? There's no loss of precision in semantics. In fact, that's exactly how the medical terms in Chinese are like, and Chinese doctors are not complaining about ambiguity of technical terms because they use plumber Joe's words as building blocks.