Grammatical greetings, fans of etymology, Greek and Latin roots, and devotees of medical terminology! This vocabulary article will consider not only medical vocabulary as it relates to the Greek root tomos, but also common SAT words derived from this root word. As with most academic disciplines, the learning of specialized vocabulary in the medical field can take years, as can studying for the SAT, but a great way to get a true leg up on learning 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 SAT and medical vocabulary.

Numerous SAT-level words and medical terms come from this root word, so let's get started with easier words leading up to the more difficult:

Tomos—a cut, cutting, slice, section, part of a book {-tomy}
(n.b.: you can view the above root and its word tree at the site )
Temnein—to cut
Templum (Lat.)—temple, a place cut for auguries

Beginning with physics in relation to the root word tomos, the ancients believed that an atom could ‘not’ be ‘cut’ since it was the smallest known particle of matter (today we believe that the core of the atom itself is comprised of protons and neutrons, of which they themselves are comprised of different types of particles called quarks, now believed to be the "atoms," or 'uncuttable" objects the ancient Greeks believed in), All we know for certain is that our knowledge of the atom is probably not as accurate as the atomic clock, comprised of cesium that contain highly predictable and regular oscillation frequencies. Physicists and chemists do discuss such ideas as atomic number (the number of protons...via the Greek root protos: the nucleus of an atom, for instance, oxygen has 8); atomic weight (approximately equal to the number of protons and neutrons...via the Latin root word neuter: the nucleus...via the Latin root word nux, nucis: nut).

Anatomy is the "cutting away" of the body in order to reveal its intricate and complex internal anatomical structure, indeed, in order to study the body, one must ‘cut up’ its parts to reveal them (although with advanced imaging techniques and virtual reality anatomy programs this is becoming less and less practiced, at least for those in medical school). And, speaking of medical procedures or operations in which parts of the body are cut away, consider the tonsillectomy, in which the tonsils are "cut away" (note the "ec" here, which comes from the Greek preposition Ec, Ex—out of, from), and the appendectomy, in which the vestigial vermiform (via the Latin roots vermis: worm and forma: shape) or cecal appendix is taken out (once thought to have helped hominids digest cellulose and now thought to perhaps both produce and protect bacteria for use in the colon). Much more in my next medical vocabulary post will discuss various operations or surgical procedures of this ilk.

Entomology, or the study of insects (an insect has been ‘cut into’ three pieces: the head, thorax, and abdomen; this root word comes to us via the Latin root seco, secare, secui, sectum—to cut). An entomologist studies insects, which are ‘cut into’ sections.

A "dichotomy" is etymologically something "cut into two," and denotes a division into two usually unrelated opinions or view, such as the dichotomy between the views of materialists, who only believe in a material universe, and those who also believe in a metaphysical realm, or that which resides beyond the province of mere atomistic viewpoints. Another interesting dichotomy can exist between medical practices and those of the chiropractor (the latter derived from the Greek word cheir: hand and the Greek verb prassein—to make, do, achieve {pract, prax}).

The word epitome comes to us via Latin epitome, ‘summary;’ a ‘summary’ is a concise ‘cutting’ from a larger work. An epitome today is also a ‘representative’ or ‘characteristic cutting’ of a group, e.g. Nancy was the epitome of what a great hairstylist should be. To "epitomize" someone or something is to take a "cutting" from them, that is, be a typical example, such as conduct that "epitomizes" excellence.

To contemplate originally meant to meditate or consider ‘thoroughly’ in a ‘temple.’ And a temple in and of itself is etymologically a place "cut" for auguries, that is, those prophetic rituals performed to foresee the future. A similar word to the word contemplation is the word "consider," which comes from the Latin root sidus, sideris, star; to truly consider a situation is to look to the stars for inspiration, much as astrologists do.

My next nearly pure medical article will discuss GRE vocabulary and continue focusing on words derived from the Greek root word tomos, e.g.:

For more information on the above Greek and Latin roots, please see, which lists thousands of root words giving rise to hundreds of thousands of English vocabulary words.

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, which uses much material derived from his web site,