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May 1971

Biography of a Word

Arch Intern Med. 1971;127(5):807. doi:10.1001/archinte.1971.00310170015002

Into the world of medical terminology the word "chemodectoma" slipped quietly, introduced by Mulligan in 1950 to describe tumors of the chemoreceptor system. The heritage of the word was impeccably Greek (χημεια, an infusion,δεχσθαι, to receive, and ωμα, tumor), but its future was not auspicious. Nosology, or disease classification, is a jungle where competition is fierce, infant mortality high, and only the fittest survive. Chemodectoma had competitors of unusual ferocity. They included such near-synonyms as carotid body tumor, known to all; receptoma, known to few, but sinewy and adaptable; nonchromaffin paraganglioma, not so much a term as a definition; and potato tumor of the neck, a bucolic masterpiece.

Chemodectoma survived somehow and in 1956 appeared, undefined, in the Blakiston dictionary, wherein the reader is referred to carotid body tumor. Receptoma is not listed, and the only potato mentioned is potato nose ("see rhinophyma"). The 1957 edition of Dorland includes neither

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