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Using Science Vocabulary Effectively

Vocabulary of a Scientist

Scientists, researchers, clinicians, and experts all use lingo and jargon to effectively communicate with each other. It facilitates communicating complex topics with ease. Although, admittingly, this jargon serves a purpose for those in the field it can be overwhelming to laymens, everyday people.

This overcomplication and mystification of science is overwhelming for new learners. This barrier to entry can discourage learning. It frustrates people and ultimately is counter intuitive to the learning process.

Continuing Education/Courses

There are some courses out there, or free to access websites, that outline medical terminology for those that are interested. A few of these are listed here:

OpenMD

Global PxPH

Medical Terminology – The Basics – Lesson 1

This post seeks to give a broad overview of applications of vocabulary, not teach you a list of terms. Anyone that is interested in reading scientific articles or entering the fields of STEM, particularly health related, will need to learn a few basic terminologies. However, those come with time and practice.

Takeaway and Goals

The point is not to memorize all of these. The more exposure and time you apply these the more proficient you will become. This is meant to be an exposure to the terms rather than a lesson.

Latin and Greek Roots

You probably see Latin and Greek and are thinking to yourself, crap, I want to give up. Don’t worry this will be extremely streamlined. The root (o)logy is Greek for “the study of.”

You would add the prefix of whatever field you are studying so bio- for life, and -ology the study of. Therefore biology refers to the study of life, specifically carbon based organic life forms.

Logy the study of

You can see more examples of this on wikipedia.

-ism is the Greek root of ismos. Meaning “state of” or “condition” or “imitation.” You would add this suffix to the end of whatever concept you are referring to, so polythe- and -ism would be polytheism, the belief in multiple gods or goddesses.

Ism the state of or condition of

Medically and in health professions ism is also used for a condition or state being. Narcissism, for example, refers to the fixation of a person’s admiration on themselves. These people are self centered.

Hopefully these two help to explain a bit more about basic suffixes that frequently appear in health and medicine.

Common Health Related Prefixes, Roots, Suffixes

These prefixes are found at the beginning of a word. For example ab- or away from -normal, abnormal meaning away from or further from the state of normality.

Don’t expect to remember these, that is not the point. Instead I suggest identifying parts that are familiar. Then for the ones that are unfamiliar find other words that have similar word structure and try to infer their meaning.

I will never assume that everyone knows what pneumonectomy (the removal of a lung) means. I will always strive to define these in my posts.

You will also notice that examples are not defined here however, because learning the definition of these is not the point. It is to identify the structure of these words so that one can better interpret scientific articles.

Learn to apply and interpret rather than recite.

Prefix/Root/SuffixMeaningExample
AAbsence ofAgnosia, ataxia
abAway fromabdominal
adtowardadduction
andrmaleandrology
antebeforeantecedent
anteagainstantihypertensive
anterfrontanterior
arthjointatherosclerosis
biTwo or bothbisectional
biolifePsychophysiology
bradyslowbradykinesia
carcincancercarcinoma
cephalheadencephalophy
cerebrbraincerebral
contrAgainst,  oppositecontralateral
crycoldcryotherapy
cytcellcytokine
dedowndehydration
diathroughdiabetes
dysPainful,  abnormaldysgeusia
ecoenvironmentecology
ectomyRemoval by  cuttinghysterectomy
endowithinendocardium
epiOver, uponepidermal
etiCauseetiology
euNormal,  functioningeuphoric
exooutsideexoskeleton 
gastrstomachgastroenterologist
geoearthgeologist
hemihalfhemiplegia
histtissuehistology
hyperAbove, increaseshypertension
hypoBelow, decreaseshypothalamic
interbetweenintercostal
intrawithinintravenous
itisinflammationmeningitis
lipfatlipodermis
macrolargemarco
meningmembranemengincocal
metaLarge, changemetamorphosis
microsmallmicroscopic
multinumerousmultipara
myomusclemyocardial
necrodeathnecrosis
neonewneonatal
neurnerveneurology
nullinonenulligravida
osisconditionpsychosis
osseboneosteoporosis
pachythickpachymeningitis
panallpansinusitis
paraBeside, abnormalparaparesis
pathdiseasepathologist
perthroughper
perisurroundingperiventricular
phagdestroyphagocytosis
pharmdrugpharmacokinetics
physiProcess,  functionPhysiotherapy
plastyrepairneuroplasticity
polymanypolymorphism
postafterpostoperative
prebeforepredibetic
probeforeprognosis
pseudFALSEpseudoscience
psychmindpsychological
sclerhardsclerectomy
stencompressedstenosis
subbelowsubcutaneous
supraabovesupramolecular
symtogethersymbiont
tachyfasttachycardia
thrombclutthrombolysis
tomyincisionlobotomy
transAcross, throughtransvaginal
trithreetricep
unioneunilateral
vasvesselvasodilation

This is not even an exhaustive list. Once again do not strive to learn all of these, rather try to apply some of them to things you already do. Maybe you enjoy learning the etiology of certain psychological disorders. Apply these words to things you already know in that field for example.

Conclusion

To reiterate, the intended purpose of this article is not to memorize. The goal is to learn about word structure so that you can apply them on your own. This will make reading articles easier. This will facilitate your learning process. Make you sound smarter and improve your reading comprehension of complicated articles.

I know that everyone, even in a specialized field, has to look up terms one in a while. That is fine. We are not endless dictionaries full of scientific vocabulary. Rather we are creatures that are phenomenal at identifying patterns, trends, and applications for what we already know.

With this in mind strive to take the vocabulary, prefixes, roots, and suffices that you are familiar with and apply them to new words.

Quote to live By

Vocabulary is a matter of word building as well as word using.

David Crystal

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