Lesson 3, Page 1 of 20


In this lesson we will introduce the vocabulary of an herbalist. This is an extensive field that is impossible to cover completely. If you find this lesson tedious, don't sweat it! You are not expected to memorize every word. My goal is to increase your understanding of how words are formed, and give you some tools that will allow you to develop your vocabulary further. If you feel like you are getting bogged down by this lesson, just skim through it for a general feel for the subject matter. You can repeat the lesson at a later date, if you want to, to further your knowledge of this fascinating topic. (Fascinating to me at least. But my kids often tell me that I need to get a life!)

There are two basic vocabularies that we will be concerned with in this lesson. The first is terminology having to do with health and health care. The second is terminology having to do with botanical names.

Outline of Lesson 3

  1. Part 1 - Health and Health Care
  2. Part 2 - Botanical Names

Part 1 - Health and Health Care

Why Study Terminology?

Most lay people are at first intimidated by medical terminology. To some it seems as if doctors are trying to keep their patients in a state of confusion. However, this is not the case. Professionals in many fields, including health care, have over the years found it difficult to find terms from our everyday language that adequately and precisely described what they dealt with. They thus turned to ancient Greek, and to a lesser extent Latin, to find new words to express their ideas and discoveries.

Some early medical scientists turned to the early Greek and Roman physicians, especially Hippocrates, Galen, and Celsus, and borrowed terms directly from their medical treatises. Hippocrates for example was the first physician to use the words asthma, diarrhea, and epilepsy.

We will find that by learning some common Greek and Latin combining forms, along with some suffixes and prefixes that modify these forms, we will often be able to figure out the meaning of a word by breaking it down into its component parts. With this basic knowledge, and a good dictionary, we can continue to learn and expand our vocabulary each time we come across new material. The intimidation that scientific terms once held for us will gradually give way as we gain confidence in our ability to ascertain the meanings of words that were once a mystery to us.

To illustrate how words are made, and how this knowledge can help increase our comprehension and understanding, I will tell you a story about the word rhinoceros:

Sometime during the 14th century someone decided to give this mammal its present day name. The characteristic of the animal that struck them the most was the large horn that grew from its nose. The Greek word for nose is rhis, and the combining form (the form that is used when it is combined with other word elements) is rhin-. The Greek word for horn is keras. So this animal was named a "nose-horn animal" or a "rhinoceros." (The Greek letter for "k" is often changed to a "c" when it is transliterated to another language.)

By knowing the etymology, or word origin, of the word rhinoceros we have learned two useful combining forms that can help us understand the meanings of other words that we might come across in the future. The following example will illustrate:

Suppose you are not feeling well and find yourself sitting in a doctor's office. After examining you the doctor writes something in your file and leaves the room. You take a peek in your file and discover that she wrote "acute rhinitis" as your diagnosis. Now having taken this course, you know that "acute" just means sudden onset (as opposed to something that you have had for months or years) and you know that "-itis" simply means an inflammation. You remember our rhinoceros story and realize that all she wrote was "acute inflammation of the nose," which means nothing more than a "common cold." You now sit back and relax in the assurance that you are not going to die from this malady. (By the way, if the doctor had written "allergic rhinitis," you would have known that you were suffering from rhinitis due to an allergy—a condition that lay people usually refer to as "hay fever" or "allergies.")

Also from our rhinoceros story you learned that kerat- is a combining form meaning "horn" and that the k is sometimes changed to a c. If you run across the word keratosis and you know that -osis is simply a suffix that means "a condition or disease," you might be able to figure out (if it is on a multiple choice test) that keratosis means an area of skin marked by overgrowth of horny tissue.

Does this mean that keratitis refers to "inflammation of the horn." Well literally it does, but this word actually refers to inflammation of the cornea—the outermost clear portion of the eyeball through which light is transmitted. Someone decided that since that portion of the eyeball is hard, like a horn, they were going to name it the cornea. The word cornea actually comes from the Latin word, cornu, which came from the Greek word keras. As mentioned before, the Greek k is often changed to a c when brought into another language. Incidently, this is also the origin of the word corn, when used to describe those little "horney" or "hard-like-a-horn" growths that grow on our feet from wearing ill-fitted shoes.

I have given the above examples to illustrate how words are formed and how you can use this knowledge to improve your vocabulary. In the future I will not emphasis the Greek and Latin words themselves as much as I will their combining forms, because it is the combining forms that we will see in our everyday language. For example, rather than introduce you to the Greek word arthron which means articulation or joint, I will skip directly to the combining form arthr-, which we derived from the Greek word.

From what you have learned so far, see if you can answer the following question. Select the best answer and then press the "continue" button:

The word arthritis means:

Inflammation of the joints
Inflammation of the cornea
Runny nose due to hay fever