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January 17, 1977

Terminological Logic

JAMA. 1977;237(3):268. doi:10.1001/jama.1977.03270300072014

Although it is more blessed to give than to receive, dictionaries have bestowed a larger measure on receiving than giving. In contrast to the paucity of derivatives of donare (Latin, to give) is the abundance of words derived from recipere (Latin, to receive). The nouns alone—"receiver," "receptionist," "receptacle," "recipient," "reception," "recipience"—fill a dictionary column.

When nearly a century ago Ehrlich added "receptor" to the prolific progeny of recipere, he applied the term to hypothetical "side-chains" with affinities for a specific toxin. If present in excess, these chains would become detached from the cell to circulate freely in the blood where they could render the toxin harmless by combining with it.

Ehrlich's side-chain theory is almost forgotten, but the concept of receptors with an affinity for specific substances has been greatly expanded and translated into reality. The specific substances need not be extrinsic antigens or drugs. They can be endogenous hormones.