Aretaeus the Cappadocian, the immortal Alexandrian physician of the second Century, was confronted with a patient exhibiting excessive urination. He chose a Greek word, diabetes (meaning that which passes through), to define what he considered to be the dominant clinical sign in his patient. The Greek prefix, dia-, means through or entirely, (as in words such as diagnosis, dialect, dialysis, and diadochokinesis) and is appended to the Greek stem, baino-, meaning to go.
The word mellitus, however, is a word of Latin origin. Mellis, in Latin, means honey (and also refers to the bee). Melliferous, mellifluous and Melissa are all derivative, but not words such as melody and melodrama which are descended from a Greek word meaning song. Another Latin word for sweet is dulcis, which forms such English words such as dulcet, dulcimer and Dulcinea, Don Quixotes girlfriend.
Willis, in 1670, distinguished between those with a sweet-tasting urine, (diabetes mellitus) and those with polyuria without taste (diabetes insipidus).
A Greek root, glyco-, meaning sweet, forms the basis for English words such as glycogen, glycosuria, glycerin and hyperglycemia. The word licorice, meaning a sweet-tasting leguminous root, had originally been spelled glycyrrrhiza and is hence derived from the same Greek root. The root gluco-, as is words such as glucose and glucosamine, represents an ancient misspelling of the Greek root, glyco-. The Latin suffix, -ose, meaning full of (as in adipose) usually denotes a carbohydrate such as amylose, hexose or lactose.
The Greek adjectival prefixes, hypo- and hyper- (as in hyperglycemia) mean less than or more than. Their Latin equivalents are super- and sub-.
The neologism, insulin, (suggested by Schaefer in 1913) is derived from the Latin insula, meaning island (and represents an allusion to the source of the hormone in the pancreatic islands of Langerhans.)
The word pancreas, first used by Herophilus in about 300 BC because of the meaty quality of the organ, is taken from the Greek prefix, pan-, meaning all (as in words such as pandemic, panacea, panorama and pandaemonium) and a Greek root, kreas, meaning flesh. This root also appears in English words such as creatine, creature, creative, and recreation.
STANLEY M. ARONSON, MD
Copyright Rhode Island Medical Society Nov 2005
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