Welcome, fans of Greek and Latin roots, and devotees of medical terminology! Today's posting will consider primarily medical vocabulary as it relates to the Greek root tomos. As with intense academic disciplines, the learning of specialized vocabulary in the medical field can take years, but a most expeditious way to learn our vast English and medical lexicon (which only gains more and more new words, or neologisms, on a daily basis) is understanding word origins, especially Greek and Latin roots that form the linguistic infrastructure or core of most medical vocabulary.

This primarily medical vocabulary article will focus on word origins concerning the Greek root word tomos: a cut, cutting, slice, section, part of a book. Surgeons often perform operations that involve cutting into (incision) parts of the body, primarily for removal (excision): note that the words "incision" and "excision" from from the Latin root word caedo, caedere, cecidi, caesum, meaning to cut. Let's review some medical terminology involved in this area, and the roots related to that medical vocabulary. Note that the suffix -tomy is involved in each of these words, which indicates an incision and/or excision of an area of the body which forms the main root of the word (note also that the omnipresent "-ec-" prior to each -tomy comes from the Greek root word ec, ex—out of, from).

episiotomy: an incision performed by obstetricians into the perineum to widen the birth canal to facilitate parturition (via the Latin root pario, parere, peperi, partum—to give birth, produce, come to sight).

hysterectomy: surgical removal of the uterus, via the Greek root hystera—uterus, womb; and yes, the word "hysteria" does derive from this root word because physicians once believed that a woman’s womb could engender ‘extreme excitability’ or ‘emotional overflow.' Of course, this was around the same time that balancing humors was all the rage: medieval medicine taught that the body possessed four fluids or humors: black bile, yellow bile (choler), blood, and phlegm; the relative concentrations of these four humors, different for each person, determined mood, health, and general disposition. n.b. in time, the word humor became related simply to one’s mood (as in a person being in a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ humor), and eventually evolved into the more specific meaning of ‘funniness.’

vasectomy: surgical excision of all or part of the vas deferens (that duct of the male body that carries the semen from the epididymis to the ejaculatory duct); via the Latin root vas—vessel, container {vaso-}.

gastrectomy: via the Greek root gaster, gastros—stomach, belly {gastro-}, this refers to the whole or partial excision of the stomach.

mastectomy: via the Greek root word mastos—breast {masto-}; the removal of all or part of the breast, usually due to breast cancer. An interesting related word is "mastodon," so named because the crowns of its molars were shaped like ‘breasts.’

mastoidectomy: surgical removal of all or part of the mastoid process (posterior portion of the temporal bone located behind the ear) or mastoid sinuses, also from the Greek root mastos due to its conical shape

orchiectomy or orchidectomy: surgical removal or one or both (gulp) testicles or testes (from the Latin root word testis—witness, proof, indicator; prolific root word of test, testament, intestate, testify, etc.)

rhytidectomy: medical terminology for a face lift. Via the Greek root rhytís: wrinkle, so, the surgical removal of wrinkles.

Interested in word origin? All of the word roots mentioned above are accessible via the etymology site www.wordempire.com, on which you may view the most comprehensive Greek and Latin roots dictionary available today; a Greek and Latin roots poster is also available, which beautifully illustrates not only the sheer power of Greek and Latin roots as they form the very semantic structure of the English language but also contains a prolific number of GRE and SAT vocabulary words, and includes a vast host of medical vocabulary.

Author's Bio: 

Brett Brunner has been teaching Latin and English vocabulary in college-prep schools for seventeen years, as well as summer courses targeting the verbal section of the SAT. He spent eleven years at Saint Mary’s Hall in San Antonio, TX, where he presided as the chair of the Language Department, overseeing the Spanish, Japanese, French, and Latin programs; in addition, he taught Latin, etymology, philosophy, and world history. He designed a course in Greek and Latin roots to build vocabulary in the mid 90s, from which he had the idea of creating his own comprehensive Greek and Latin roots textbook, Word Empire, which is now used by numerous schools and individuals, and includes distribution through the American Classical League. He spent the academic year of 2000-2001 on sabbatical, finishing Word Empire, and recently completed Word Empire III: Clarity; he also wrote a book on teaching methodology, entitled Chaos Motivation, which describes his unique, infrastructural motivational methodology--he finished the second edition of Chaos Motivation in the fall of 2006. He holds an undergraduate honors degree from UW Madison, and an M.A. in English from the University of Virginia; he has continued his studies in Latin at the University of Georgia at Athens. He was awarded the prestigious Master Teacher's award at Saint Mary's Hall in the fall of 2003 for his success in motivating students at the middle and upper-school levels. In June of 2005, Mr. Brunner was named Teen Ink’s Educator of the Year. Mr. Brunner regularly presents his learning English vocabulary methodology at conferences, the most recent being at Vanderbilt University for the American Classical League. He currently teaches Latin at Tandem Friends School in Charlottesville, VA, where he writes a Latin roots SAT word of the day column on the school's web site, and also frequently contributes to his Greek and Latin roots blog.