Latin in medical translations


In a different post about Medical Language, I have written about the history of Western medical language and why it is important for medical translators.

Today I am going to elaborate a little on the importance of knowing, or at least recognizing, certain words in Latin.

Often medical terms are comprised of:


or a combination of:




In other words, several medical terms may be broken down into two or three terms.

Some examples of Latin PREFIXES include: osi-, ovo-, ante-, ad-, capill-, cervic-, cutane-, de-, latero-, lingua-, adip(o)-, intra-, inter-, lact(i), lact(o)-, manu-, nas(o)-, nerv-, piri-, post-, retro-, rubro, sinus-, semi-, trans-, tri-, ultra-, ungui-

Some examples of ROOT WORDS include: papul(o), pleura, sanguine, ventr(o)

Some examples of SUFFIXES include: -al, -ous, -ary, -cidal, -cide, -icle, -tensive, -ule, -version

When you understand the meanings of these words independently, it becomes easy to understand them combined.

For example, the Latin prefix adip(o) means fat; the suffix -ous means pertaining to. Hence adipous, or as it has been adapted adipose tissue means fatty tissue.

There are numerous examples like that, such as intravenous, which combines intra (within) and venous (related to veins). Intravenous is, therefore, the medical term for administration of a drug product into the circulatory system through veins. This goes for intramuscular as well, i.e. into the muscle.

Although there are several terms derived from Latin, there are many more derived from Greek, which I intend to address in a future post. A medical translator does not need to learn Latin or Greek in order to translate proficiently. A medical translator should have a collection of references at his/her disposal, which may help him/her make sense of new terms, such as the Wikipedia list of prefixes, suffixes and root words.

Also, a medical translator should be curious. If you often work in a specific field of medicine, such as human reproduction, you will see certain prefixes very often, like ovo-, ovul(o)-, ventr(o); hence, whenever you come across one of these, you should seek to learn its meaning, even if you have found a translation for the whole term. In time, you will know the meanings of the common prefixes, suffixes and root words in your field by heart and this will be invaluable when you come across newly coined terms or terminology that is new to you.



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