Hazards of the medical terminology of classical languages: everything is Greek (and Latin) for me!

Henrik Wulff noted that the language of medicine offers intriguing challenges to linguists.1 The oldest written sources of Western medicine are the Hippocratic writings of the 5th and 4th centuries BC. Greek medicine was later adopted by the Romans and in the first century AD, Aulus Cornelius Celsus translated many Greek medical terms into Latin. However, Peter Frankopan2 describes the lazy history of civilization as “Ancient Greece spawned Rome, Rome spawned Christian Europe, Christian Europe spawned the Renaissance, the Renaissance the Enlightenment” and, as John Wade put it, ” the rest is history.” Where was it? In fact, the first great civilizations were established 5000 years ago in the Indus Valley and Mesopotamia with sophisticated sewage systems that would not be accompanied by European public health measures until John Snow links cholera to the water supply in the mid-19th century. There are ancient Chinese texts documenting the medicinal effects of herbs dating back to 2700 BC.3 The most famous centers of learning after the 8th century AD, when Europe was still in the dark ages after the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, were the Islamic schools of Baghdad, Cairo and Cordoba. The texts studied in Islamic schools were those of Greek scientists and philosophers and between 750 and 900 AD most of the works of Hippocrates, Galen and Aristotle were translated into Arabic.

Around the year 1000 AD, Ibn…

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