Ever wonder where some of the medical terms you use every day come from? Here’s a brief history.
Explore this issue:April 2011
Stent: The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) finds the first record of the medical term “stent” in an 1878 dentistry journal. The term described the invention of 19th century English dentist Dr. Charles Stent (1807-1875), who improved the plasticity and stability of the common denture base of the time. Stent’s two sons marketed the product through a dental supply company, Claudius Ash and Sons, which ultimately purchased the rights to the compound and manufactured it under the Stent name. According to OED records, it was not until the 1960s that the term “stent” became broadly defined as “a tube implanted temporarily in a vessel or part.”
- Online. The Oxford English Dictionary website. Available at: oed.com/viewdictionaryentry/Entry/189814. Accessed February 24, 2011.
- Ring ME. The story of Dr. Charles Stent. Pierre Fouchard Academy website. Available at: fauchard.org/history/articles/jdh/v49n2_July01/charles_stent_49_2.html. Accessed March 24, 2011.
X-rays: In 1895, Professor W. C. Röntgen of Würzburg coined the German term “x-strahlen,” which was translated into “X-rays” one year later. Röntgen chose the algebraic variable “x” to demonstrate the unknown nature of the rays he was investigating, writing (in an English translation), “A piece of sheet aluminium, 15 mm. thick, allowed the X-rays (as I will call the rays for the sake of brevity) to pass, but greatly reduced the fluorescence.” By the early 1930s, “X-rays” had become an accepted term, used in various medical reports.
- OED Online. The Oxford English Dictionary website. Available at: oed.com/view/Entry/231038?rskey=5KmNue&result=1&isAdvanced=false. Accessed February 24, 2011.
Eagle’s Syndrome: Dr. Watt Eagle, an otolaryngologist at Duke University, first described the syndrome in 1937, terming its two subtypes “the classic syndrome” and the “stylocarotid artery syndrome.”
- Piagkou M, Anagnostopoulou S, Kouladouros K, et al. Eagle’s syndrome: A review of the literature. Clin Anat. 2009;22(5):545–558.
Tonsils: From the Latin tonsillæ (plural), the word “tonsils” has been documented in English since the beginning of the 17th century, according to the OED Online. The Online Etymology Dictionary notes that the word is diminutive of toles, which means “goiter.”
- OED Online. The Oxford English Dictionary website. Available at: oed.com:80/Entry/203226. Accessed February 24, 2011.
- Harper D. Online Etymology Dictionary. Available at: etymonline.com/index.php?term=tonsil. Accessed March 24, 2011.
Stenosis: From the Greek “stenoun” (“to narrow”) and “stenos” (“narrow”), the term was first used in 1872 to describe mitral stenosis, according to The Oxford English Dictionary.
- Harper D. Online Etymology Dictionary. Available at: etymonline.com/index.php?search=stenosis&searchmode=none. Accessed March 24, 2011.
- OED Online. The Oxford English Dictionary website. Available at: oed.com:80/Entry/189805. Accessed March 3, 2011.
Parkinson disease: In his 1817 Essay on the Shaking Palsy, the British physician James Parkinson first described parkinsonism as a group of chronic disorders in which motor function progressively wanes due to the deterioration of neurons in the area of the brain. To date, the disease described by Parkinson, Parkinson disease, is the most common form of parkinsonism.
- Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica website. Available at: britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/444159/parkinsonism. Accessed March 24, 2011.
Alzheimer’s Disease: After creating a new laboratory for brain research at the Munich medical school, German neuropathologist Alois Alzheimer first described this disease during his infamous 1906 lecture. Alzheimer used a newly developed stain to identify plaque as well as previously undetected neurofibrillary tangles within the brain. The disease was named after Alzheimer by Emil Kraepelin, for whom Alzheimer worked as a research assistant.
- Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica website. Available at: britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/18223/Alzheimer-disease. Accessed February 24, 2011.
- Alzheimer’s Disease International. Alois Alzheimer. Alzheimer’s Disease International website. Available at: alz.co.uk/alzheimers/aa.html. Accessed March 24, 2011.
Cold: Despite the illness and disease that plagued the people of the Middle Ages, the use of the term “cold” to describe an inflammatory condition did not occur until the Renaissance. Writers like William Shakespeare and Ben Jonson were some of the first to use the word as we now understand it. The phrase “to catch a cold” developed closer to the 18th century, changing from its more literal interpretation—“to become chilled from exposure to cold”—to one describing the contraction of an illness.
- OED Online. The Old English Dictionary website. Available at: oed.com:80/Entry/36100. Accessed March 8, 2011.
- OED Online. The Old English Dictionary website. Available at: oed.com:80/Entry/28817. Accessed March 8, 2011.
Influenza: The Italian word “influenza,” meaning “epidemic,” derives from the word “influence,” referring to the influence of the stars (gods) or an occult influence. Used in Italian to describe diseases like scarlet fever (influenza di febbre scarlattina) since at least 1504, the term became anglicized in pronunciation in 1743 when la grippe spread from Italy to Europe. Shortly after, 18th-century writers began using the term figuratively to describe a mental or commercial epidemic.