Clearing Up Medical Words: No Prescription Needed

Where do these words, expressions and illnesses come from? Some explanations might surprise you!


Gardenal: The pharmaceutical lab that developed this sleeping pill brand had previously—and successfully—marketed other medications that all ended with “nal.” The firm’s director tasked the marketing department with figuring out a name for this new drug, asking them in French to garder (or “keep”) the “Nal”… and voilà! The name was coined.

Metastasis: this borrowed Greek term means “migration.”

Spleen: this term has its roots in the Old French word esplen, which itself was borrowed from Latin and Greek (splen). The spleen was considered the seat of hypochondria and bad tempers.

Antibiotic: Ukrainian-American Selman Waksman invented this word in 1941 after discovering Streptomycin.

Sick as a dog: the origins of this expression are a little vague, but the general consensus is that back in the 1700s, people had a tendency of comparing unpleasant things to dogs. Since stray dogs could carry and spread diseases they weren’t looked at as the healthiest of creatures.

Vaccine: this word comes from the Latin vaccinus, based on the word vacca (meaning “cow”). This is because a mild virus similar to small pox, called cow pox, was used in the creation of early small pox vaccines.

Feeling under the weather: this nautical expression for feeling unwell was coined back in the days of old sailing ships. A seasick sailor would be sent below deck and away from the wind and rain—literally under the weather!

An irrational fear of constipation: coprastasophobia!


Remember to always get your terms translated with the help of a medical translation agency like ITC Translations!

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