Medical terminology is a vocabulary for accurately describing the human body and associated components, conditions, processes and process in a science-based manner. This systematic approach to word building and term comprehension is based on the concept of:
The word root is a term derived from a source language such as Greek or Latin and usually describes a body part. The prefix can be added in front of the term to modify the word root by giving additional information about the location of an organ, the number of parts, or time involved. Suffixes are attached to the end of a word root to add meaning such as condition, disease process, or procedure.
In the process of creating medical terminology, certain rules of language apply. These rules are part of language mechanics called linguistics. So, when a term is developed, some logical process is applied. The word root is developed to include a vowel sound following the term to add a smoothing action to the sound of the word when applying a suffix. The result is the formation of a new term with a vowel attached (word root + vowel) called a combining form. In English, the most common vowel used in the formation of the combining form is the letter -o-, added to the word root.
Prefixes do not normally require further modification to be added to a word root because the prefix normally ends in a vowel or vowel sound, although in some cases they may assimilate slightly and an in- may change to im- or syn- to sym-.
Suffixes are categorized as either
Needing the combining form, or
Not needing the combining form since they start with a vowel
Decoding the medical term is an important process, Once experience is gained in the process of forming and decoding medical terminology, the process begins to make sense and becomes easier. One approach involves breaking down the word by evaluating the meaning of the suffix first, then prefix, and finally the word root. This will generally produce a good result for the experienced health care professional. When in doubt, the result should be verified by a medical terminology dictionary. The process of learning a new language, such as medical terminology, is a challenging, yet attainable goal as the basic rules--once learned--make the process easier. (See Applied Linguistics)
The use of a medical dictionary or Internet search engine is most helpful in learning the exact meaning of a medical term. However, if the basic concepts of word building are understood, many words are understandable to the student of medical terminology.