Without training, medical terms and scientific names often seem unnecessarily confusing or fancy. While there are good reasons behind their usage, it can feel a little overwhelming when a doctor uses a term like “cardialgia” to describe a simple case of heartburn. In fact, mundane and common issues have some of the most extraordinary scientific names, often linked to the Greek or Latin terms for the body parts they affect.
Corns and calluses on the feet may be annoying, but they are rarely scary. However, tell a person they have a heloma molle or durum and they might feel a little differently. A heloma molle is just a soft corn while a heloma durum is a hard one.
Medical terms often arise from a need to be accurate, which leads to being overly descriptive. Breaking the name down, “synchronous diaphragmatic flutter” sounds like it involves some type of spasming in the chest. Another, much better-known term for this would be a hiccup. Interestingly, the word “hiccup” began as an onomatopoeic imitation of the sound of a hiccup.
Sometimes, adopting words from other languages leads to some mystifying terms. While “onychocryptosis” sounds like a rare and exotic disease, it actually comes from the Greek words for “hidden” and “nail.” Onychocryptosis is a simple ingrown nail. Though it is archaic now, the Latin term for an ingrown nail is “unguis incarnatus,” meaning “nail in flesh.”
"Morsicatio buccarum is a type of frictional keratosis” may be a medically accurate definition, but it is still extremely perplexing for most people. This term is notorious even in medical circles. Essentially, morsicatio buccarum is a condition where cheek chewing creates a hard ridge of tissue. It comes from the Latin words “morusus,” which means "bite," and “bucca,” which means “cheek.”
Though it sounds frightening, sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia is the medical term for an extremely common condition: brain freeze. This name comes from the sphenopalatine ganglion, a parasympathetic sac in the skull that is responsible for the brain freeze headache, among other conditions. “Neuralgia” is just any pain in the distribution of a nerve or nerves.
Orthostatic hypotension is a circulatory condition that affects millions of people all over the world. It can even result from something as simple as not drinking enough fluids or sleeping for too long. Look beyond the veil of medical terminology and orthostatic hypotension is that lightheaded sensation that sometimes occurs after standing up. While it can be a symptom of something more serious, for most people, it is minor and infrequent.
A rumble, growl, or gurgle from the stomach or gastrointestinal tract has a pretty interesting scientific name — borborygmus. Multiple rumbles would be borborygmi. A stomach that is growling is borborygmic. When spoken out loud, the word itself even sounds like a stomach growling. This is likely because its Ancient Greek origin “borborygmós” stems from the word “borboryzein,” which was likely onomatopoeic (we'll let you look that one up).
Because it is so similar to words like “horrible” or “horror,” the term “horripilation” immediately brings to mind a nightmarish medical procedure or condition. In actuality, horripilation is just the bristling of hair that occurs when a person feels excited or scared, better known as goosebumps. Both horror and horripilation have the same Latin root word, “horrēre,” which means “to be erect, bristle, or shudder.”
Sometimes even understanding a word’s meaning does not make it any less confusing. Muscae volitantes, which is New Latin for “flying flies,” sounds like a parasitic infection. However, this term refers to the eye floaters most people have experienced before. Despite their unique name, muscae volitantes are usually harmless deposits floating in the eyes.
Almost everyone has experienced xerostomia. Some even have it every day. They may have eaten something that was xerogenic or it could have developed without any known cause. Without treatment, xerostomia can even lead to difficulty swallowing and speaking. Thankfully, an easy fix for most people is something as simple as drinking a glass of water, because xerostomia is just dry mouth.
This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.