JOK Notebook

Body of Knowledge

I've recognized repeatedly that kanji teaches me vast amounts about English. Lately, through my study of Japanese characters, I've also been learning about Latin and Greek! Not only that, I'm absorbing a great deal about how the body works. First, essay 1564 on ่ƒ† (gallbladder; liver; innards; courage) took me into the realm of the gallbladder and liver, exploring both Western and Eastern concepts of these parts. More recently, the just-released essay 2037 on ่…Ž (kidney) taught me that an organ I had scarcely considered is ultra-important from both a Western and Eastern standpoint. Next week I'll publish essay 2006 on ๆข— (blockage; stem), which plays a key role in words for "stroke" and "heart attack."

With these back-to-back (no pun intended!) forays into the medical world, I've found out about infarctions and necrosis, embolisms and thrombosis, the medulla, adrenal hormones, and on and on. I realized from the word "myocardial" (of or pertaining to the heart muscle) that "myo-" must mean "muscle," and so it does! It's from Greek. I was also thrilled to spot “renal” (kidney) inside “adrenal,” which helped me see just how close a connection these organs have. In "adrenal," the “ad-” (at) comes from Latin, just as “renal” does. As long as we’re talking about etymology, let’s consider one more prefix. The “nephro-” in “nephrologist" (kidney specialist) means “kidney” and is of Greek origin. 

Despite my "medical advances," I'm not entirely at ease with the frightening medical terms I've encountered, such as "angiotensinogen" (an oligopeptide and powerful dipsogen). This one scares me in both languages:

ใ‚ขใƒ†ใƒญใƒผใƒ ่ก€ๆ “ๆ€งๆข—ๅกž (ใ‚ใฆใ‚ใƒผใ‚€ใ‘ใฃใ›ใ‚“ใ›ใ„ใ“ใ†ใใ: atherothrombotic embolization)

I think of the many doctors I've known and wonder how in the world they ever memorized it all. More important, how did they "tame" it (a question that reminds me of The Little Prince)? Then again, lots of people ask the same about kanji. And perhaps the two types of vocabulary are not so different. With medical terms, you look to Latin and Greek roots, just as you scrutinize the components of kanji. Here's one example:

ใใ‚‚่†œไธ‹ๅ‡บ่ก€ (ใใ‚‚ใพใใ‹ใ—ใ‚…ใฃใ‘ใค: subarachnoid hemorrhage)
          membrane + sub- + hemorrhage (last 2 kanji) 

The ใใ‚‚ means "spiderweb," matching the English "arachnoid"! Both long terms pertain to a membrane in the brain, one with delicate fibers that attach to the next membrane and that resemble a spiderweb. With ไธ‹ (under), we have "subarachnoid."

It turns out that several medical terms are easier to understand in Japanese than in English! In fact, I often find several kanji compounds to be quite straightforward and logical when they're related to medicine.

See if you can figure out what disease this represents:

็ณ–ๅฐฟ็—… (ใจใ†ใซใ‚‡ใ†ใณใ‚‡ใ†)     sugar + urine + disease

I'll block the answer with an image from essay 2037 on ่…Ž.

Image Credit: Mikael Häggström

Ready for a shock? The left and right kidneys are not alike! As you can see in the diagram, where we’re looking at the person’s front, the left kidney is higher than the right one. Wikipedia says the right kidney is below the diaphragm and behind the liver. The left kidney, which is below the diaphragm and behind the spleen, is a little closer to the spine than the right kidney is. Furthermore, the left kidney is usually a bit larger.

The answer is diabetes! High levels of sugar in the urine can indicate diabetes!

It doesn't get much more logical than this:

็‹‚็‰›็—… (ใใ‚‡ใ†ใŽใ‚…ใ†ใณใ‚‡ใ†: mad-cow disease)     mad + cow + disease

็‹‚็Šฌ็—… (ใใ‚‡ใ†ใ‘ใ‚“ใณใ‚‡ใ†: rabies)     mad + dog + disease

Now, here's one that threw me a bit:

่„ณ่ก€็ฎก (ใฎใ†ใ‘ใฃใ‹ใ‚“: cerebral blood vessel)     brain + blood + tube, pipe, duct

I figured it was an artery leading to the brain, but that's not the case, even though Halpern says that this ็ฎก means "tube, pipe, duct," just as I thought.

Here's another that seems illogical:

ๅ‰็ซ‹่…บ (ใœใ‚“ใ‚Šใคใ›ใ‚“: prostate gland)     before + to stand + gland

Ah, but it turns out that both ๅ‰็ซ‹ and "prostate" (which breaks down as "pro-" + "state") mimic the Greek prostates, which means “one that stands before"! (Stands before the toilet?) 

With all this in mind, let's do another quiz.

1. What do you think this term could mean? It looks like "disorganized veins!" Of course it's not.

ไธๆ•ด่„ˆ (ใตใ›ใ„ใฟใ‚ƒใ)     not + organization, regular, ordered + vein, pulse

2. Where in the body can you find a pelvis (other than the obvious place)?

I'll block the answers with a preview of essay 2037 on ่…Ž (kidney):

Okay, here goes:

1. ไธๆ•ด่„ˆ (ใตใ›ใ„ใฟใ‚ƒใ: not + regular, ordered + pulse) means "arrhythmia." I've simplified the breakdown to show only the relevant definitions.

2. The kidneys have a pelvis! I'm talking about this word in which the second kanji is non-Joyo:

่…Ž็›‚ (ใ˜ใ‚“ใ†: renal pelvis; small funnel-shaped cavity of the kidney into which urine is discharged before passing into the ureter)     kidney + bowl

There must be at least as much to know about the body as there is about Japan, its culture, and its intriguingly complicated characters. What a thrill to learn about it all at the same time!

Have a great weekend!


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