Monday, 28 January 2013

Translating Medical Terminology

I just wanted to mention a new reference book I purchased the other day which I've found really helpful. It's called "Understanding Medical Terms", written by "Ralph Rickards" (link here) to buy on Google (I don't get any referral fee). There are actually quite a few similar books, but this has been my favorite since buying it, and in just a few hours I've seemingly doubled my ability to read medical terms. I use it to check all kinds of things.

It's actually a very short book, running to only 106 pages, with sparse and large text. It gives basic rules for constructing medical terms and is bound to be helpful for translators. Here's an example, "pluer-, cost" are given to mean "relating to the ribs", so we can now guess what "intercostal muscles" are. Each chapter gives a few common roots for Greek and Latin terms like "The Body", "The respiratory System", "Cells" and so on. Each chapter gives about 20 roots which you can then combine to make thousands of different words. "Otorhinolaryngology" for example is just "Oto" - ear, "rhino" nose, "laryn" throat", "ology" -study - Ear, nose and throat! Just learning a few terms like that suddenly seems to unlock a lot of medical terms. Definitely worth getting if you ever come across medical terminology in your work or life.

It struck me when I was reading it, how much easier it is to read medical reports in Chinese. In Chinese the word for intercostal as an adjective is just 肋骨间 (ribs-space), meaning "between the ribs" which is actually the same thing the word means in English except we use costal instead of rib. Would it hurt for medicine to do a round of simplification and replace some of the old roots with the modern word. I know "Interribal" sounds a bit funny at first, but we could soon get used to it.

Monday, 21 January 2013


Issued: 21/01/13

For Immediate Release


Translation studies at Imperial College London could soon become a thing of the past.

Imperial’s Management Board is seriously considerating disbanding the Translation Studies Unit from October 2013 – not because of poor performance or high costs, but because it lacks ‘strategic fit’.

The TSU, which runs highly popular and successful MSc and PhD programmes in scientific, technical and medical translation, has been informed that it may be forced to down tools and move to another university – or close outright – simply because its work is not properly recognised by the institution where it is based.

The College argues that the unit does not fit in with its strategic aims and mission statement. However a careful reading of these two documents indicates that it matches them point by point. The unit’s MSc focuses closely on conveying scientific and medical knowledge across languages and cultures, and is one of the only programmes worldwide to offer such targeted training to tomorrow’s specialised translators.

Indeed, the programme is unique to the College and unlike all other Masters degrees in translation, most of which focus on general or literary rather than scientific types of translation. PhD students research relevant topics and the academic staff publish work on scientific and medical translation, translation technology and audiovisual translation.

Staff, students, alumni and wellwishers are up in arms about the proposals, which if given the go-ahead would see the unit being forced to look for a new home – or closing down entirely should this prove impossible.

A 30-day consultation period commenced on 18 January, during which time it is hoped that as many people as possible will make their views felt about this incomprehensible and potentially destructive plan. Already the unit’s online petition ( has attracted over 2,500 signatures in little more than 48 hours and is growing by the hour.

Notes to Editors:
1. Contact: Dr Jorge Díaz Cintas,, 020 7594 8747.
2. The Translation Studies Unit ( was founded in 2000 and has been running its MSc in Scientific, Technical and Medical Translation with Translation Technology since 2001. There are currently 52 students registered on the Masters, and around 300 former students worldwide. The Unit also supervises around 25 PhD students and is active in various relevant areas of research. The Unit has four core members of staff, one administrator and a large number of part-time tutors.