Terms, Terms and Terms

Abductor pollicis longus
Extensor pollicis brevis
Talocalcaneonavicular joint
Substantia gelatinosa Rolandii
Corticopontocerebellar pathway
Tubuloglomerular feedback
Slow reacting substance of Anaphylaxis
Protoporphyrinogen-III
25-dihydroxycholecalciferol

These terms have nothing in common, but are capable of producing the same effect- terms like these can make even the brightest of students think-“Did I make the right choice in choosing MBBS?” Being introduced to these terms adds to the horror of a new student who is already bewildered by the strange new college environment. It is a source of wonder for non-medical people how we can say and remember such difficult names. It is true that this ability is something worth admiring, but it usually is not achieved easily. There are many ways in which a student copes with this problem. One that happens with everyone inevitably over time is that they get “used to” it. It is wonderful how many difficult situations man can adapt to. Over time, each new term causes slightly less fear than the previous one and over some time he gets literally immune to it. It takes quite a while till his sub-conscious also realises that it’s no big deal, these terms are not as big problems as he once thought they were. In fact we get used to these technical terms so much that we even start using them in our daily lives, even at times when they are not at all needed, for instance, asking each other- “Hey, how to study? Retrograde or anterograde?” or saying “The whole of my peroneal compartment is paining after that match” or even a student saying to the other a few hours before examination “Hey dude! I’m feeling palpitation! One also realises over the course of time that the usage of terms is inevitable. We just can’t do without these technical terms. It only for this reason that their use was started in the first place and still continues. One can’t use words from common language for everything. If that was the case, then a psychiatrist would be using only one word – mad! For many things we want to refer, words don’t exist in common language. One also realises that the good old Greek and Latin names are simply the best names that could have been. These names are also quite intuitive when one learns how they have been derived. Knowing the derivations can make things very easy. One can easily learn quite a bit of Greek and Latin from seeing the derivations of these terms alone. For example the word “pons”, meaning “bridge”, for that part of the brain is quite apt as it looks just like a bridge and more or less functions like one. The modern trend is to keep English names but their use has also caused a little inconvenience in that they are usually too long and unwieldy. For example, “growth hormone” for somatotropin looks okay but “growth hormone releasing hormone” or “growth hormone inhibiting hormone” look rather unwieldy when compared to “somatocrinin” and “somatostatin”. One can also use abbreviations but they are simply not intuitive and look like a meaningless bunch of letters.

At the same time it is not necessary that one shouldn’t try to do something and blindly memorise things even which he finds very difficult. One can always make an effort and try to make it easy. Sometimes we can dispose off unnecessary Greek and Latin and make things surprisingly easy, like the margo obtutus of the heart can be called the obtuse margin and the incisura angularis of the stomach can be called angular notch or arteria pancreatica magna as great artery of pancreas. These are commonly found in Western textbooks and atlases but have not yet entered much into books by Indian authors.

There is another category of terms, terms like-

Parkinson’s disease
Tetrology of Fallot
Fascia of denon Villiers
Hepatopancreatic ampulla of Vater
Korotkoff’s sounds
Lobry de Bruyn van Ekenstein isomerisation
Queckenstedt’s test

These terms actually called “eponyms” but commonly known as “named” things are a real nightmare for students. There seems to be no way around these. There was a highly successful ad campaign by some company – “The name is enough”. So successful in fact that all the teachers seem to be following it. If one knows the name then it is assumed that the student knows completely about it. However, the names are important as confusion between two will completely change the disease! One should also realise that these too are not bad names. Since a disease has more than one symptom, calling it by one symptom will leave a totally incomplete picture. Instead if one creates a picture of all the symptoms and gives it a single name, it may help in a more intuitive understanding. The same may be applied to the name of a special anatomical structure or a set of chemical reactions. Also it is not required that we remember a lot of such names, remembering only a few common or significant ones will do.

It is more because of these terms than the actual subject that makes the science we study look rather complicated. But even if a slight effort is made, things can become surprisingly easy. In the end, we all need to follow what is being strongly advocated in the ads of Tata Docomo- the principle of KISS- Keep it Simple, Stupid!

[This article will also be found in my college magazine – Insignia 2011, but here it is in it’s original form without all the undesirable editing they have done]

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