Tuesday, November 25, 2014

How Do You Pronounce It?

One of the trickiest parts of using professional terminology is getting the pronunciation down. There are at least two reasons pronunciation is important:
  1. You want to be understood, right?  Using a recognizable pronunciation make it more likely that professional communications will be accurate.  And in clinical settings, accuracy can be a matter of life and death.

  2. You have to pronounce it in your head!  Even if  we do not speak a term out loud, we sort of pronounce it "in our heads" as we read or write a term.  We really need some kind of pronunciation of a term for it to become part of our brain's operating "word list."
Okay, but how does one figure out how to pronounce a term correctly?

This is the usual pattern for developing your pronunciation of a term:
  1. Learn it from someone else.  You might pick up a pronunciation from a peer, a mentor, or a learning resource—or from the media.

  2. Look it up in a dictionary. Written and audio pronunciation guides are available in the major medical dictionaries, comprehensive dictionaries, and similar resources—some of which are freely available on the web.

  3. Use common pronunciation patterns.  Each language has it's own "typical" pronunciation guidelines, some of which may not be written down.  For medical terminology, one often uses either Latin pronunciation patterns or the pattern of your native language.
But here's where it gets tricky.  For some terms, there is no "correct" pronunciation—only several possible alternate pronunciations. That's the nature of human language.  It is variable and dynamic in usage, meaning, spelling, and pronunciation.  

Dictionaries are an attempt at standardization of language, but cannot be absolutely comprehensive. Even if there was one universally accepted dictionary, it would change over time as our languages change. 

Besides the futility of an unchanging standard for pronunciation, there are regional differences related to dialect. I speak a form of midland-urban U.S. English and my wife speaks a form of southern-rural U.S English.  Which of us is "correct" in our variations of pronunciation?  Hmmm.  I suggest that it's best to call us both correct.  As long as we can understand each other accurately.

Even in Latin and Greek there are dialect differences that affect pronunciation.  I once had a colleague declare a pronunciation to be the "correct Latin pronunciation" of a term.  But that puzzles me because the earliest memory I have from my first Latin course was an explanation of the different systems of pronouncing Latin—and which one we were to use in our course.  I don't think the system we used is very common in medical circles, because I find my pronunciations of Latin terms a bit out of the mainstream on occasion.  Maybe that's what prompted my colleague to declare his version of "correct Latin pronunciation." 

I think we should make continuous, strong efforts to use "mainstream" pronunciations when using professional terminology.  For the sake of accuracy and safety in our communications, such effort is essential.  

But for many terms, we need to understand that pronunciations may legitimately differ—perhaps from regional variations or perhaps from whom one learned their Latin.  And I think we need to train our ears and our tongues to adapt to different pronunciations when we encounter them.  

I think SKEL-uh-tal muscle tissue is okay here in Missouri, but I think I'll be better understood in Calgary or Liverpool if I talk about skeh-LEE-tul muscle tissue.  

And, FYI, if you hear me say FOR-uh-men, I'm really talking about a fuh-RAY-men.  Blame my Latin teacher, if you must lay blame somewhere.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Bone Names Have Meaning

Using the language of the human skeleton can be intimidating for a number of reasons.  Not the least of which is that the names of the bones and bone features seem to be very odd—sometimes almost unpronounceable.

There's a reason the names are so odd.  They're based on a foreign language!  They're all based on Latin, with a lot of Greek word parts mixed in there. Once you realize that you're using a new language as you master the details of the human skeleton, it will hopefully be a  bit less intimidating.

It turns out that if you actually focus on the fact that these are terms from a foreign language and try to translate them, then using the terminology of skeletal anatomy is far easier—and takes far less time and effort to learn—than if you ignore the meanings of bone names.

To help you get started on this road, I've produced a couple of very brief videos that outline a proven method to quickly and easily learn the bones and bone features of the human skeleton.  Watch them both to get the greatest benefit.

In the videos, I mention a couple of lists of translations (and pronunciations) that will help you engage the method I'm recommending.  Links to those lists are found below.

Want to know more?

List of bone marking types
  • Translation of each term
  • Pronunciation of each term
  • Brief description of each term
  • my-ap.us/16PNh3K

List of bones and bone markings of the human skeleton
  • Translation of each term
  • Pronunciation of each term
  • Use with your textbook or Survival Guide for Anatomy & Physiology (below), which has a description of each structure
  • my-ap.us/15zZYom

Field Guide to the Human Body:  Bone Names

Survival Guide for Anatomy & Physiology
  • Many time-saving, effort-saving, and frustration-saving tips and shortcuts
  • my-ap.us/16aa5zg
Photo credit: sklmsta

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Gray anatomy or grey anatomy?

When you are looking at nervous tissue, do you discuss GRAY matter or do you discuss GREY matter? or does it really matter?

Yes, it does matter. It depends on whether you are communicating in a United States (U.S.) dialect of English or a United Kingdom (U.K.) dialect of English.

Ordinarily, in U.S. English, the color is spelled GRAY.  In U.K. English, the color is usually spelled GREY.

Actually, in U.K. English, one would state, "the colour is grey" because of the color/colour difference in spelling.

But does spelling matter?  I say YES.

My reasons are spelled out in detail in the article Does Spelling Matter? at The A&P Student. In that article, I discuss the fact that in the health professions, spelling errors are a grave matter of safety. Even small differences in spelling can have unintended, tragic consequences. And that means that during the training of health professionals, we should do all we can to learn how to communicate perfectly—and thereby learn to communicate safely.

I'll get back to the importance of spelling in a subsequent article.  For now, let's focus on the idea that U.S. and U.K. English have some differences in spelling, a few of which I summarize below.

Quick points about U.S. versus U.K. spelling differences

Professional communication requires correct spelling

  • Correct spelling avoids confusion and mistakes in communication
  • In the health professions, correct spelling is therefore a safety factor

Correct spelling in English varies from region to region

  • It is best to use the spelling correct to your particular regional context

Because communication is global, we frequently encounter regional variations

  • To avoid confusion, it best to be familiar with spellings used in other regions

U.K. English is not universal outside the U.S.

  • Canada, Australia, and some other regions use a mix of U.S. and U.K. spellings
  • Even in the U.K., some have adopted selected U.S. spellings

There are exceptions to every rule

  • Specific institutions and publications sometimes adopt spelling styles not typical of their regions
  • Some disciplines and specialties have adopted their own spelling styles, regardless of region
  • Some people have accidentally picked up spellings from outside their region and therefore use a mix of regional spelling styles
  • Some U.S. spellings are commonly (and correctly) used in the U.K. and some U.K. spellings are commonly (and correctly) used in the U.S.

Be resilient

  • Language is dynamic, producing regional dialects and spelling styles—so be on the lookout for changes as your regional language evolves

Some examples of U.S. versus U.K. spelling differences

The e/ae/oe vowels

Some words in U.S. English that use the e vowel instead use the ae or oe  diphthong in U.K. English.


The -er/-or endings

Some words in U.S. English that end in -er instead end in -re in U.K. English.


The -or/-our endings

Some words in U.S. English that end in -or instead end in -our in U.K. English.


The -ize/-ise endings

Some words in U.S. English that end in -ize instead end in -ise in U.K. English.


The -yze/-yse endings

Some words in U.S. English that end in -yze instead end in -yse in U.K. English.


The -og/-ogue endings

Some words in U.S. English that end in -og instead end in -ogue in U.K. English.


Miscellaneous spelling differences

Some words in U.S. English have any of a variety of spelling differences in U.K. English.

sulfur, sulfate
sulphur, sulphate

There are many other spelling differences among various dialects of English, but these examples give you sense of the concept.

Gray's Anatomy

Primed by the title of this article, you may be wondering which of these is proper:

Gray's Anatomy
Grey's Anatomy

It depends.

If you are referring to the classic anatomical treatise originally penned by Henry Gray and illustrated by Henry Vandyke Carter, then you should use Gray's Anatomy.

If instead you are referring to a television series featuring the character Meredith Grey, then you should use Grey's Anatomy.  The creators of this show about medical professionals intentionally played on the popularity of the anatomy reference—but in doing so, probably confused a lot of people!

Monday, September 22, 2014

What, if anything, is o-log-y?

After having published other blogs for students and teachers of human anatomy and physiology, it occurs to me that one of the biggest struggles is becoming immersed in a whole new terminology.  

Okay, that didn't just occur to me.  What recently came to mind is the idea of producing a blog for the specific issue of learning the language of human science and medicine. 

So here it is!

Looking ahead, I think I'll be covering concepts like these:

  • Tricky issues like Latin pluralization
  • Pronunciation issues
  • How word parts work, including how terms are built and alternate meanings of word parts
  • Where the terminology comes from
  • Eponyms
    • How to use them
    • Why avoid them
    • Who those people are or were
  • Dissecting specific terms to learn more about their meanings
  • Tips on using terminology
  • Weird terms or usages
  • Terminology trivia

Some of my blog posts will be basic and others will be more advanced.

If you teach in the human sciences, you may want to use the more basic posts to help your students by including links to them in your syllabus, course website or learning management system, or discussions and email messages with your students.  The more advanced posts may help you clarify some of the gaps in your own working knowledge of terminology.

If you are a student of the human sciences, both the basic and advanced posts will help you become more deeply immersed in a new language.  That can only help you better understand concepts and how they are explained or communicated to you.

If you have an ideas for topics, requests, tips, or puzzles you'd like help in solving, please contact me!

The title of this blog is o-log-y.  I derived that name from a dissection of the "-ology" phrase appended to many terms that describe fields of study, such as biology (the scientific study of life) and etymology (the linguistic study of word origins).

[ocombining form, -logwords (study of), -y activity]