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  • Galina Blankenship

MEDICAL TERMINOLOGY IN LAY TERMS (OR PLAIN ENGLISH)

Updated: 7 days ago

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Medical terms or phrases are complicated and may prevent correct understanding of healthcare information and medication instructions. Health professionals should be able to rephrase such terms and explain difficult notions to their patients.


Most common medical terms have equivalents in lay language, which are important to know:

To rephrase medical information using plain English;

To interpret what patients say in medical jargon.



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Long before English became the lingua franca of science, Latin was the dominant language of medicine. Before the 3rd century, Greek also served as the language of instruction for medical students. In fact, both Greek and Latin shaped the conventions of medical as well as scientific writing for over 2,000 years.


One of the distinctive features of the medical terminology is the so-called doublet phenomenon. Most Greek and Latin-based terms have their equivalents (“doubles”) in lay language, e.g., search investigate, shot injection, heart attack myocardial infarction.


The doublet phenomenon can be observed through the association of adjective vs. noun roots. This particular linguistic feature is of a great importance in writing or translating information materials for lay readers.



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Here is a short list of common medical terms and their suggested equivalents, using the lay language:



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Below is another brief list of common ways in which patients may describe their symptoms and the possible medical conditions such symptoms point to:




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