I’m sporting a souvenir of our holiday in the south of France, if this conjures up in your mind images of chic Parisians attired in haute couture then think again think more Darth Vader at least for one of my legs.
Banish any thought that I was doing something intrepid, I wasn’t climbing a rock face, or shushing off-piste, both of which I have always thought were good ways to break a leg, nothing so exciting I trod on a stone and something in my foot cracked like a twig.
Not realizing what I had done I stoically limped around wincing in pain looking at the sights not wanting to spoil my sister’s pleasure of showing us round her little corner of France, eventually, however, I had to admit defeat.
I was forced to take my ease and sit in the sunshine watching the birds; hoopoes, golden orioles, tree creepers, egrets and flamingos in my sister’s garden and on her doorstep. Yes flamingos she lives right on the Mediterranean check out her website *1 for some of her paintings of the locality.
On the flight home the aforementioned foot took on hideous proportions, not a pretty sight and my fevered mind had visions of a mid-air explosion akin to a balloon popping.
Eventually I ended up in A&E at Lewisham hospital, thanks to all there you were great, where my hideous foot was x-rayed and it was discovered I’d broken my fifth metatarsal. Gone are the flat shadowy x-ray images of yore now its digital and it’s almost 3 dimensional. I was knocked out (not literally guys) by the x-ray images. I may have a rather ugly left foot at the moment but on the inside it is beautiful – ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’, Psalm 139.
The dear doctors at the hospital recommended I lay resting on cushions and being pampered for six weeks. The pampered bit appealed but the laying around sent me in to near hysterical paroxysms of cynical laughter. (I really do need all three words to express how I felt about that suggestion). But the pain was much more insistent than the doctors who had fitted me with this restorative boot and I have had to sit around a lot more than I’m used to.
The sitting naturally meant that my mind has more time to wander than usual. Fortunately, sitting in the French sunshine I had an idea for a novel and in the last five weeks I’ve written 33,600 words and the first draft of “The Time Oak” has gone off to be critiqued, having said that I did have moments when my mind was left to dawdle and so I got out one of my favourite books, after the Bible, my dictionary. I wanted to know what my fifth metatarsal was and why was it called metatarsal. Remember my fevered state please.
This of course led me to wonder why in the 21st century most medical language is still based on Latin. I expected a dust covered relic but it turned out to be a fascinating weave through history from the dawn of civilization right up to the present day.
Every medical film or soap opera since the invention of film 1889 2* and television *3 1924 have made us aware of the Hippocratic oath that doctors take that promises to preserve life, which dates back to 4th century BC Greece and Hippocrates of Cos considered the “father of medicine.” The oath has changed radically from the original which was sworn to the Greek god Apollo (the physician), and it is a myth by the way that all doctors swear this oath nor is it as ethical as it was in Hippocrates day.
There were other schools of medicine before Hippocrates; however, he was the one who took medicine out of the realms of magic and superstition. We might think that all his works have been superseded but this is far from true and he and his oath are well worth exploring further.
It was with the Roman expansion from 140BC that the Hippocratic ethos spread across the known world. The majority of doctors in the Roman Empire were Greek therefore the language of medicine was Greek and it wasn’t until the 1st century AD with the writing of De Medicina by Aulus Cornelius Celsus, also called Cicero of doctors, that this started to change. De Medicina was an overview of medical terms, practice and knowledge based on Greek sources. Celsus retained many Greek terms directly or used both Greek and Latin letters for terms where there was no direct Latin equivalent. He also retained the use of Greek imagery which likened the shapes of anatomical structures to everyday objects for example, ‘stapes’ which is Latin for ‘stirrup’ a small bone in the inner ear, or ‘musculus’ which is Latin for ‘mouse’ a specific muscle that stretches and contracts, or ‘helix’, Latin for ‘snail’ is the skin and cartilage around most of the outer ear I could give you many more.
Latin is also the language of botany, zoology, ornithology, pharmacology, science and law. With the decline of the Roman Empire we might think that Latin would die out but not so it was so widespread that a Latin speaker could easily cross borders and be understood. It was the preserve of the educated and therefore, the wealthy which in itself would cause elitism and doctors long made every effort to keep their patients in the dark and it was a tool of control please see my blog Refining English 26th July 2013.
Medical scientists continued to develop new concepts that had to be named, and their classically schooled predecessors coined a multitude of new terms, most of which were composed from Greek a huge neoclassical word stock which is still being used rather than Latin. Of course words from other languages have also entered the language of medicine for example wincing which is of German-French origins and nucha, meaning the neck, which is an Arabic term.
But in the 21st century all the most influential medical journals are written in English, again medical doctors have chosen a single language for international communication. Doctors from non-English-speaking countries now have the choice of accepting English terms or translating them into their own language. The term bypass, for instance, is accepted in the USA and in many European countries whereas the French, who do not favour anglicisms, translated it to pontage. English acronyms such as AIDS, present the difficulty that usually the initials no longer fit when the English term is translated. AIDS is widely accepted though in French it is SIDA reflecting the order of the equivalent words in French.
Oh about my original query metatarsal: ‘meta’ means with, ‘tarsal’ are the seven bones that make up the ankle, therefore, the fifth bone attached to the ankle.
And finally my blog is littered with Latin we use Latin in our everyday conversations; hoopoes, fevered, hysterical, paroxysms, pharmacology just to mention a few.
PS Why do people keep mentioning David Beckham when ever I say I broke my fifth metatarsal? Have I missed something?
By the way I’ve been told to tell you that my novel ‘Reflections of the old past’ isn’t just an exciting crime mystery thriller but it’s also a wonderful love story. Thanks very much Nick.
Did you know you don’t need a Kindle to read my book ‘Reflections of the old past’. Simply download one of Kindle’s FREE apps–available for every major smartphone, tablet, and computer.
*2. 1889, William Friese-Greene was issued patent no. 10131 for his ‘chronophotographic’ camera
*3. 1925 In his laboratory on 2 October 1925, John Logie Baird successfully transmitted the first television picture with a grey-scale image: