The History of Medical Terminology


Medical terminology has an extensive and rich history in Latin and Greek languages. When the Romans conquered Greece, around 400, the knowledge and language of both cultures merged, resulting in new medical concepts regarding disease treatment and containment. Medical records were chronicled by hand, creating medical terms and books.

med student and medical devices
med student and medical devices (Image: Creatas/Creatas/Getty Images)


Much of the medical terminology we use today is attributed to Hippocrates, who is considered the "father of medicine," and Claudius Galen, one of the most legendary doctors in the Roman Empire.

Roman Empire
Roman Empire (Image: Hemera Technologies/ Images)


Medical terminology was created to identify the various anatomical structures, diagnoses, instruments, procedures, protocols and medications.

medical instruments
medical instruments (Image: Medioimages/Photodisc/Photodisc/Getty Images)


Medical terms and their roots correspond to their Greek and Latin etymology; for example, the word "aural" is derived from the Latin word "auris" (of or pertaining to the ear) and the word "auto" is derived from the Greek word "aut-o" (self).

students in med school
students in med school (Image: Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images)


Medical terminology is structured into three primary parts: the word root, the prefix and the suffix. The word root is generally located in the middle of the word and signifies the basic meaning. The prefix comes before the word root and identifies the word's meaning by revealing further information about location and area of the body. The suffix, at the end of a word, works as an inflectional ending that conveys definite features, including the circumstances, development and protocol regarding the condition.

med student on computer
med student on computer (Image: Creatas/Creatas/Getty Images)


Medical terminology, also uses Greek and Latin adjectives or compounds to connect nouns, verbs or combining forms. The combining form "o" is mostly found after the prefix: take Greek prefix my/mys (muscle) and add the combining "o" form; leaving us with "myo." If we add the Greek root word "cardio" (heart), and the suffix "itis" (inflammation), we have formed "myocarditis," a muscle layer of the heart that is inflamed.

doctor holding books and folders
doctor holding books and folders (Image: Jupiterimages/liquidlibrary/Getty Images)

Expert Insight

Recognizing the Greek and Latin word origins is key to understanding medical terminology. Many resources online provide free access to medical terms/terminology; however, a lot of them withhold the origin of the terms. The "Chambers Classical Roots for Medics" is a clear-cut guide to medical terminology and includes the structural breakdown and language etymology.

doctor on computer
doctor on computer (Image: Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images)

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