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October 4, 1941

Current Comment

JAMA. 1941;117(14):1186. doi:10.1001/jama.1941.02820400044014

BIOPSY  Language is constantly changing. The sense of a word in common usage may diverge so far from the dictionary definition that redefinition may be required. Consider the word "biopsy." The dictionaries agree essentially in defining biopsy as the examination for purposes of diagnosis of a portion of tissue removed from the living body. Usage, however, seems to make "biopsy" mean the process of removing the living tissue rather than the examination. If the dictionaries are followed, the procedure of removal is described in such a roundabout manner as "removal of lymph node for biopsy." If common usage is followed and the word is employed to refer to the procedure of removal only, the examination is awkwardly described as "examination of tissue removed by biopsy." Etymologically the term "biopsy" must be compared with the words "necropsy" or "autopsy," which mean examination of the dead body; the dictionary definition is correct