Medical Words For Everyday Situations

For when you need a better phrase than "pain in the butt"

Definition: an inability or refusal to recognize a defect or disorder that is clinically evident

As with many of the subsequent words on this list, anosognosia is properly used to describe an actual medical diagnosis, such as a person who has broken their arm and insists that it is fine. It was not intended to describe the person who sits across from you at the dinner table every night, and insists that they most certainly do not chew their food any louder than the average person does.

Definition: rectal pain

There are, of course, many (many) other words in the English language which figuratively describe someone who happens to be a pain in the butt. Yet none of these are literally describing the sensation of having pain in our gluteus maximus region. The original sole meaning of headache (or, if you prefer, cephalalgia) was “pain inside the head” before it took on the additional meaning of “a source or trouble or worry”; why shouldn’t we allow proctalgia to semantically broaden in the same way?

Definition: an abnormal desire to pull out one's hair

The fact that our definition for trichotillomania specifies that it is an “abnormal” desire to pull out one’s hair does not necessarily imply that there must then be a “normal” desire to do this sort of thing as well. Trichotillomania is formed by combining the New Latin trich- (“hair”) with the Greek tillein (“to pull, pluck”).

Definition: a form of visual agnosia characterized by an inability to recognize faces

Prosopagnosia is, admittedly, a difficult word to employ in a figurative sense. But that doesn’t mean it cannot be useful in your everyday life. For we all of us have had those mortifying occasions when we have failed to recognize someone who obviously knows who we are, and have then had to come up with a suitable explanation for why we have no idea who they are. Now you may lie more convincingly, and simply claim that you have a severe case of prosopagnosia.

Definition: producing anxiety

When you stop for a minute and really think about how many things there are in this world that cause us some degree of anxiety, it is rather surprising that we should have so few common words to describe this quality. Well, you need be surprised no more, since you now have the word anxiogenic at your disposal. A recent addition to our vocabulary (it began being used in English in the mid-20th century), anxiogenic was borrowed from the French anxiogène (which also means “producing anxiety”), which was itself taken from the Latin word for “anxious” (anxius) and the French suffix -gène (“giving rise to”).

Definition: heartburn, pain in the heart

Cardialgia does not actually mean “broken heart,” in either a medical or an etymological sense. It comes from the Greek words for “heart” and “pain” (kardia and algos), and is typically used to refer to either heartburn, or some form of pain in the heart. A stickler for semantic precision might well frown on using such a word as cardialgia to refer to the state of having a deep romantic unhappiness, but it is worth noting that when we say someone is brokenhearted we are already well into figurative territory (unless, of course, you are referring to someone who actually has a heart that is nonfunctioning).

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10 Interjections Your Vocabulary Has Been Missing

Definition: an object, such as a sponge, accidentally left inside a patient, following a surgical procedure.

Gossypiboma is a serious medical word for a serious thing, and should not be used metaphorically to refer to that thing that you forgot to grab when you left the house, and really (really) wish that you hadn’t left behind. But it could be used that way, especially if you are the sort of person who thinks other people’s suffering is occasionally amusing.

This word might be characterized as extremely arcane medical jargon, as it has made few, if any, appearances in any dictionaries (medical or otherwise). However, it is sometimes found used by those in the field of medicine, as may been seen by the title of an article in the journal Radiology in 1978: “Gossypiboma – The Problem of the Retained Surgical Sponge.


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