In Dutch, my native language, most diseases go by normal Dutch names (longontsteking for pneumonia, buikgriep for gastroenteritis, hersenvliesontsteking for meningitis, etc.), whereas in English the Greek names seem to be the default choice.

Is there any reason for this seemingly lack of anglicisation?

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    Is there any reason for the Dutchicisation of them in Dutch? The English way may be less intuitive to learn for native speakers, but they do mean that in a great many cases, you don’t need two completely separate systems of naming to reconcile doctorspeak and normalspeak. Feb 6, 2017 at 10:03
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    In the past, the learned professions such as medicine used Latin (and presumably also knew Greek). Many diseases no doubt had English common names (such as 'consumption' for tuberculosis, 'bloody flux' for dysentery), but it's the learned names that have always been used by doctors for the sake of accuracy. I suppose it's similar to botanists using Latin names for plants rather than the common names which may be confusing and inaccurate. Feb 6, 2017 at 10:20
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    I would venture it's a holdover from the towering reputation of Galen throughout the Middle Ages and well into the Renaissance. Before my first trip to Greece, friends worried that communicating with physicians there would be a problem; I replied that physicians speak Greek here in America, too; over there they just pronounce it better! Feb 6, 2017 at 16:31
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    I think the use of Greek and Latin names is a relatively recent style. If you watch period TV shows or movies about doctors in the 19th century, they often used common names. I suspect it coincides with increased formalization of the medical education process.
    – Barmar
    Feb 6, 2017 at 22:22
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    Any answer will need to address (and possibly substantiate) the difference in usage between English and Dutch.
    – Mitch
    Feb 7, 2017 at 15:33

1 Answer 1


Since your question is about English, I can say that our active language uses words that change meaning over time, but inactive ones like Greek and Latin do not. I learned in Anatomy class that doctors the world over can communicate accurately by using standardized names from the inactive languages.

Wicked, once evil, is now fashionable. Similarly, redundant is bad in English, poetic in Biblical Hebrew, and well-advised in computer hardware.

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