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August 27, 1997

Medical Meanings: A Glossary of Word Origins

Author Affiliations

Dayton, Ohio

JAMA. 1997;278(8):688-689. doi:10.1001/jama.1997.03550080098053

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The reference literature of medicine includes lots of books that you can hardly pick up, but not many that you have trouble putting down again. Here we have a work on medical terminology that not merely invites but virtually demands sustained perusal, even though the entries are set out in alphabetical order. Ostensibly a glossary of medical etymology, Dr Haubrich's book swarms with arcane facts and unexpected insights. His chosen field is the confluence of three humanistic disciplines—medicine, history, and language—and he writes with authority and flair on all three.

While giving the accepted etymology for each term, he adds depth and interest by bringing in relevant issues from far and near, without becoming diffuse or didactic. Sometimes he supplies definitions or etymologies for terms that happen to be related to the principal one, either linguistically (molluscum:mollycoddle, sphincter:sphingolipids) or conceptually (eclectic:holistic, finger:pinkie). Now and then he takes the trouble to