Figurative and Alternate Meanings for 20 Medical Terms

By Mark Nichol

Words used to describe medical conditions or phenomena often acquire new connotations by extension of the original meaning, though sometimes the medical meaning followed rather than fostered the other. Here are twenty such terms and their other senses, as well as the initial definition.

1. Anemic: lacking in some quality, such as energy, interest, quantity, or substance (blood deficiency, resulting in a lack of vitality)
2. Artery: a communication or transportation channel, especially a major one (vessels that carry blood from the heart throughout the body)
3. Articulation: the action, manner, or state of being joined, or expressing or uttering sounds or words; also, an obstruction (a joint or juncture in an animal)
4. Cataracts: waterfalls or steep rapids, or torrents (a clouding of the eye that obstructs light) — this word, from the Latin term for a portcullis, a gate that is lowered from above, likely acquired the medical connotation later, from the resemblance of the clouding to a sheet of water
5. Diagnosis: an analysis or investigation, or its conclusion (using signs and symptoms to identify a disease, or the identification itself)
6. Dyspeptic: disgruntled (suffering from indigestion)
7. Hallucination: delusion (false perception caused by drugs or a nervous system disorder, or the object so perceived)
8. Hemorrhage: a significant loss or release (a heavy flow of blood)
9. Morbid: melancholy or gruesome, or related to death (pertaining to or affected by or causing disease)
10. Nasal: a vocal quality suggestion obstruction in the nose (pertaining to the nose)
11. Nerve: boldness, strength, or a sensitive issue (tissue that connects components of an organism’s nervous system, or sinews or tendons)
12. Oral: spoken (pertaining to the mouth, or to personality traits or a stage of psychological development)
13. Paralysis: incapacity or powerlessness (loss of ability to sense and move part or all of the body)
14. Plethora: abundance, excess (an excess of blood)
15. Postmortem: an analysis or discussion of an event after it has occurred (an autopsy)
16. Prognosis: forecast (chances for recovery from disease)
17. Sanguine: bloodthirsty, or optimistic (pertaining to blood, or having a ruddy complexion)
18. Schizophrenia: antagonistic or contrary attitudes or qualities (a psychiatric disorder marked by delusion of perception and thought)
19. Surgical: marked by precision (pertaining to medical operations)
20. Umbilical: used in references to excessive emotional attachment (pertaining to the navel or the center of the abdomen)

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3 Responses to “Figurative and Alternate Meanings for 20 Medical Terms”

  • Anne Hahn

    Thank you for your interesting comments on the origins of sayings, words, etc. However, I’d like to make a very strong plea for the ‘figurative’ use of schizophrenia to be totally unacceptable! It is also often used erroneously to refer to ‘split personality’ type thinking which is totally unconnected to the condition. People living with schizophrenia do not appreciate the term being misinterpreted, especially with negative connotations such as you have used – ‘antagonistic or contrary attitudes or qualities’. I realise that you are simply reporting on what may have become common usage, but there are other terms in common usage that are taboo, and this should certainly become one of them for all intelligent people.

  • Paul Nguyen

    Did you forget #9?

  • Mark Nichol

    Paul:

    Thanks for your astute diagnosis. We performed simple surgery to insert the missing item; the procedure was successful.

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