Different things for the same name

I’ve picked up enough scientific/medical Latin and Greek that I can often guess what a new term refers to without looking it up. Of course 50% of that comes from knowing “itis” means “inflammation”, but I’ve picked up other terms too.

The problem is that even English -> Science translations are ambiguous. In psychology, “displacement” means redirecting an emotion from the cause to a new target (e.g. you’re mad at your boss so you punch a wall). In the closely related field of animal behavior, displacement means taking the energy of a negative emotion it can’t act on and investing it in something positive (e.g. your cat licking itself after it hears thunder).  Over in physics, it means physically moving something out of the way, which is probably the closest to the conversational definition.

Latin -> Science -> English is even worse. Take parabiosis. It literally translates to “living next to”, which could mean the perfectly reasonable “two species living in very close association with each other, without noticeable benefit or cost to either”. Or it could mean “sewing the circulatory systems of two different animals together so they can share blood forever.” This is useful when you want to test if blood borne chemicals are relevant to a system but have no idea which chemical might be relevant, e.g. testing how aging affects recovery from trauma. AKA Elizabeth Bathory was on the right track.

If you read that and are wondering if you can maintain eternal youth by sewing yourself to a college student, the answer is probably no. The mice must be heavily immunocompromised to avoid mutual destruction via the immune system (although I wonder if this could be combated with cloning.  Hypothetically.). But having discovered that pigeon-rats are a very real possibility, I am excited/afraid to discover what other Simpson’s Halloween episodes we can make real.

On a more serious vocabulary note note, I’ve been using Iodine’s in-browser medical translator, and I’m shocked at how helpful it is.  You wouldn’t think Highlight-rclick-google search is that taxing, but compared to seeing the definition instantaneously and in context, it feels like an enormous waste of working memory.    My only complaints are that it doesn’t autotranslate words in links, which are often exactly the words I want to know the meaning of, and that it’s strictly medical rather than biological, so it skips a lot of basic science words.