Sanskrit and Modern Medical Vocabulary

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Item Code: IDF361
Author: Asoke Bagchi
Language: English
Edition: 2002
ISBN: 8172361238
Pages: 145 (B & W Illus:6)
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 8.4" X 5.8"
Weight 280 gm
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Book Description
From the Jacket:

Dr. Asoke Bagchi deserves ample credit for expressing the link between some languages and their teutonic and post-teutonic variants of a much later date in a precise but laconic language. He has attempted to relate philologoically the origin of certain medical terms. According to author, English lexicographers claim that the overwhelming majority of medicinal terms originate from Greek, a sizeable portion being derived from Latin, but he feels that many of these terms which are supposed to have originated from Greek or Latin in fact did so from Sanskrit. This indeed is an interesting book to come from the pen of a Neurosurgeon. This book will be of interest to historians, language experts as well as to all history of man and of medical sciences.


Dr. Asoke Bagchi’s book is on Comparative Medical Languages Vis-a-vis Sanskrit, a language still practised in India for about four millenniums. The existing medical vocabulary in the world is in various languages of which those evolved from Vedic languages and Samskrita are in majority.

The vocabularies have remarkable similarities from the stand point of pronunciations. meanings as well as linguistic similarities. He published a similar book well back in l978 intriguing to Dr. Sukumar Sen, the internationally known linguist.

For twenty-four years the author did not sit idle, he carried on his pursuit and received many encouraging findings and opinions.

His knowledge of Sanskrit, English and German and a few others helped him in his critical studies.

He has rightly dedicated the present book to Sir William Jones the great Indo-Aryan linguist and the founder of the Asiatic Society of Bengal at Kolkata.

I am confident, this book will be earning for him new honours.

In conclusion he has candidly said that everything to-day has contributed to sciences in the new perspectives, so his work and opinions would be cognisant with the laws of prevalent linguistics.


What I must say to begin with:

This is the product of the endeavours of a Neurosurgeon and not a philologist that I am, extending through a period of over two decades. The idea engendered in my mind at the sudden sight of a signboard atop the entrance of an Italian Ear, Nose and Throat clinic at Bologna. It is a study on philology no doubt, but it is rather difficult to attach a meaning to the term itself! Among the Greeks and Romans the term was used to signify a love for the investigation of all subjects connected with literature. The Alexandrian critics applied the term “philologus” to a person who was well acquainted with ancient Greek writers, and with the subjects treated in their works. According to Suetonius, the first person to be honoured as a “philologus” was one Erastothenes living in the second century before the birth of Christ (Engl. Cyclop). In later times, philologus was merely a person skilled in languages and the word became almost synonymous with “grammaticus” meaning a grammarian. Having no knowledge of Comparative Philology initially, the travel through the vast literature on the subject was very slow and it was a travail indeed! However, I gained in speed and confidence as time went by. My little knowledge of English imparted by the kind teaching of my professor, the late Rai Radhika Nath Bose Bahadur, of the Edward College, Pabna (Bangladesh) and the knowledge of German and Latin acquired while a student at the Medical Faculty of the University of Vienna, were real assets in the venture. An interest in Philately since childhood which is still persisting as a hobby enabled me to decipher the scripts used by the Russians, Greeks, Bulgarians and Yugoslavs. My initial publication on the subject running through just one page in the Surgeon’s Library section of the famous American Journal: Surgery, Gynecology and Obstetrics, was lauded by many but, as it also contained some conceptual misunderstandings, a timely note from the National Professor of India in Humanities, the late Dr Suniti Kumar Chatterjee, made me more alert, intent, cautious and critical. It was published by Professor Lloyal Davis, the professor of Neurosurgery, Chicago University. His daughter is Nancy Regan (nee Davis) wife of Ronald Regan.

A recent reference to the same single page trifle by Professor Guido Majno in his colossal volume entitled, “The Healing Hand” which came from the prestigious Harvard University Press of Boston, gave me an edge over my constant apprehension.

My grateful thanks are due to :

Srimati Sadhana Bagchi, my wife, who with her typical non-chalance endured the long torture of living with piles of old books on her bed for quite a few years! Professor Bhabani Charan Mukhopadhyaya, of the Maulana Azad College and Dr Santi Chakraborty of the Lady Brabourne College and the Calcutta University, for their guidance and advice. My enduring students, Doctors C K Roy, Carmel, Jawed and several others rendered invaluable secretarial help.

My sincere thanks are due to Mr and Mrs R M Relwani, the son-in-law and daughter of the late Professor Dr D R Bhandarkar, who helped me with the only available prints of the photos of the Professor and his father Sir Ramkrishna G Bhandarkar. I must also thank my son Sriman Debashish who took all pains to procure photos of the above two personalities and Dr Gune from the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, Pune, but unfortunately no photos were available at the Institute! My daughter Snigdha has to be thanked for the linguistic map of India. I would fail in my duty if I do not mention the name of Sri Debabir Bikram Dasgupta, formerly of the Statesman, Calcutta, who not only recorded my lengthy dictations but was also a ready source of knowledge and reference. My learned neighbour, Mr Dilip Mukherjee helped me with several of his personal collections of books on history and allied subjects. He had always been a good intellectual companion. The sudden and almost unexpected acquintance with Sri Pradip Mukhopadhyay facilitated my approaches relating to the work to the eminent scholar in Philology, Dr Sumumar Sen, MA, PhD, D Litt, F A S who was extremely kind to me. The great help rendered by the young and erudite comparative litterateur of the Jadavpur University, Sriman Swapan Majumdar is invaluable in the genesis of the print.

There are a few others like my unselfish friend Mr Ellis Abraham, the news Editor of the Statesman, but I am no less indebted to many others whom I do not nominally identify.

Lastly, I would like to stress that, most of what I have said, I have tried my best to authenticate with appropriate citations and references culled from various sources.

There are however, many deviations which are products of my own imagination, conception and observation. If those are found to be wrong, some of you kind readers (if any?) please suggest and correct me. The Pokornyfils are visibly annoyed with me!

Thankful acknowledgements are being rendered to:

Dr. Ramaranjan Mukherji, Dr. Hans Vermeer of Mainz, Germany, Dr. Ian Puhvel and Dr. Edger Polome both of USA, Dr. Manabendu Banerjee of the Asiatic Society, Kolkata.


It all began in the year 1951, while I was passing through the small Italian town of Bologna, the one famed for the ancient hospital and university. Intending to visit the local hospital, I entered into its premises and was lei-surely loitering inside the campus. A signboard atop a door suddenly attracted my attention! On it was written boldly, “NASO, KANO, GOLA”. A very familiar trio of words which induced me to enquire with the porter, the meanings of those words. I was awe-struck, the signboard was meant to locate the Nose, Ear and Throat Department. This strange happening motivated me to make an intensive inquiry into the comparative similarities of medical terminology prevalent in modern times, starting from the great Indo-Aryan language, Sanskrit.

Any individual living in the 20th century, possessing a minimal of intellectual bearing is to some extent a scientist, because in everyday life he cannot dissociate himself from scientific terminology.

After the completion of basic studies a future medical student has to enter into a strange world of medical glossary where at every step he encounters words which are supposed to have originated from Greek or Latin. It is very unfortunate that in most cases the students hardly ever try to find out the actual meanings of those words. It has been my experience during the past 48 years as a teacher in surgical sciences that hardly a few of my students use a medical dictionary or refer to it. They simply try to memorise those alien words. As a result they do not retain anything for the future. One would hardly find a single book on Philology encompassing the origin of medical vocabulary, and there is an obvious gap in the philology of sciences on the subject. In the study of medical vocabulary or the vocabulary of General Sciences very casual reference has been made to the great Indian language, Sanskrit, which is one of the most important derivatives of the Indo-European language family.

If one has to give proper credence to the estimates of Professor Jacobi of Bonn, that Vedic literature is of higher antiquity than of Greece (4000 BC), then Sanskrit, the refined language evolved directly from the Vedic language deserves reconsideration in respect of its chronological seniority and concommitant early contributions in the evolution of the glossary of sciences with equal credits and claims attributed to Greek and Latin (MacDonnel).

The study of philology on a comparative basis was the brains-child of the great English jurist and scholar, Sir William Jones, who first detected the similarities of Sanskrit and the classical European languages, Greek and Latin. He was a judge of the Supreme Court of Calcutta. It is a matter of pride for the city of Calcutta that, the study of comparative Indo-European philology was born here amid the dingy private archives of the indigent Sanskrit scholars living during the time of Jones. His initiative evoked profound interest in the minds of Occidental and Oriental scholars and the great science of Comparative Philology was born.

Since India’s independence, a vigorous revival of the study of Sanskrit has been made under the patronage of the State. So an individual endeavour to research into the links of Sanskrit in the origin of modern medical vocabulary will not be out of place, as, we Indians still nurse a dormant intention to write text books on medicine and other sciences in our own languages as in countries elsewhere.

At par with the progress of knowledge, the vocabulary of sciences like medical and para-medical sciences are also on the increase. New discoveries, inventions, concepts and theories constantly add to this volume of growth. But besides the new, there still remains the original basic terminology which are the foundations of the medical language in general. It is a rewarding experience to analyse and search for those terms. Since many years, the eminent elders of Indian sciences like the late Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose, the late Sir Prafulla Chandra Ray, the late Professor Satyendra Nath Bose and many others like the late Dr. Jnanendralal Bhaduri and the late Gopal Chandra Bhattacharya have attempted to transliterate various disciplines of sciences into the Bengali language. Large committees have often been formed, and dissolved, which endeavoured to coin suitable words for Bengali and Hindi terminology of sciences (Bhaduri).

Attempts at translating medical terms into Bengali had been a common pastime among a few pioneer doctors of Bengal. Their translations may have been scientifically correct, but were full of philological distortions and disputes. The English lexicographers claim that the overwhelming majority of our medical terms originates from Greek, and a sizable proportion is derived from Latin. But they forget or rather feel disinterested to search back into one of the most important derivatives of Indo-European language like Sanskrit.

Sanskrit is one of the oldest derivatives of the Indo-Eu-ropean language family. A very many of those medical terms which are supposed to have originated from Greek or Latin can be found in it. If we could trace them from a scientific perspective, we could convince our scientists that the use-less labour and expenditure of transliterating medical glossary could be totally abandoned, or minimised.

There are many Greek or Latin words which have entered into the medical vocabulary like Genus, Hydra, Labium, Vagina, Saliva, Genesis. All these words can be found in Sanskrit.

When it comes to studying the host of words derived from the classical languages, it is interesting to note that certain Sanskrit words are used in the same form in Greek and Latin with very little alterations; however, sometimes the meanings may not be identical. The modern English medical vocabulary may be traced back to its Greek origin from the time of Hippocrates Heraclide (460-370 BC). Some of the words coined by him like carcinoma, erythema, herpes, hippus, polypus have clear links with Sanskrit. Aristotle (304-322 BC) used words like canthus, exophthalmos, podagra which have also relations with Sanskrit (Stedman). Likewise, Galen (131-201 AD) derived terms like aponeurosis, coccyx, epididymis, pterygium, pylorus which are also related to Sanskrit!

There are groups and groups of other words to substantiate the facts stated above. Words like cor, nausea, hysteria, cancer, cauda equina, muscle, ophthalmic, coronoid, co-racoid, pterion, thyroid, buccinator, cephalic, carotid and hundreds of others need be investigated as many of these are originally derivatives from Sanskrit words in circulation even today. So, if those could be established, we could dispense with the unnecessary endeavour of transliteration as we could proceed effortlessly with writing on the sciences in Indian languages without bothering much to translate every term into cumbersome, unintelligible words. Many countries in the West teach the sciences through their own languages without changing the terminology, and they have far outflanked us.

This general use of imported words into English vocabulary was unavoidable and convenient in the early days of development of modern medical science because most of the ancient medical scholars were well versed in Greek and Latin. Similarly, the numerical prefixes Uni, Di, Tri, Penta, Hepta etc. relating to numbers entered into the medical vocabulary. All these numerical prefixes can be traced back to Sanskrit. The medical terms Cranium, Cornea, Jugular, Labium, Optic, Hydrophobia entered into the medical vocabulary in various periods of the 16th century. Similarly, in the 17th century, the words Axis, Cardiac, Carotid, Coccyx, Lacteal, Pylorus, Uterus, Vagina, Acarus, Pod entered the medical vocabulary. In the l8th century, words like Coracoid, Thyroid entered into medicine. In the 19th century medical vocabulary, entered the words Aphasia and Claustrophobia (Savory). All those words can be traced back to Sanskrit. So, beyond our common knowledge and vision, there exist hundreds of Sanskrit words either in their original or slightly modified forms in modern medical texts.

It would therefore be appropriate to make a comparative list of those Sanskrit words along with their derivatives in Greek, Latin and other Indo-European languages as far as possible, for the use of future scholars both in linguistics and medical sciences.

Due to lack of appropriate and adequate reference books, some of the words could not be compared with all the Indo-European languages but most of the words have been critically compared with their available counterparts.

Hardly ever any Indian medical scholar has given a prior thought to this interesting subject. The facts brought out here are based on etymology as far as possible. However, there may be many differences of opinion and conceptual mistakes for which the author is widely open to criticism.

About the Author:

Born on the 26th November, 1925 at Rangpore (now in Bangladesh), in the family of doctors of Pabna (now in Bangladesh). School and college education at Pabna (1934-1942). Medical education at Kolkata (1943-1948), Post-graduate education in Neurosurgery at the University of Vienna, Post-graduate medical academy (1951-1954). One of the first four Neorosurgeons of India and the first Bengali Neurosurgeon. He is M.S. in Neurosurgery, D.Litt. in Sanskrit and Ancient Asiatic Medicine as well as a Ph.D. in Theraputic Philosophy from the World University of Pheonix, Arizona, USA. Published over 275 professionals papers in various Indian and international Journals. Publisher of over 39 books in English and Bengali on diverse subjects like Medicine, History, Philology, Paleology, Poaleopathology and has lately published in Encyclopaedic dictionary of names in Medicinal Sciences (Antiquity to 2000 A.B.). Retired as professor of Neuro-surgery from the N.R.S. Medical College of Kolkata in 1984.

Foreword V
Preface VII
Abbreviations XIII
Introduction 1
A Brief History of Evolution of Man

Divison of Languages

The Aryans and Indo-European Language

Some Linguistic Questions on the Extent of Probable Habitat of Nomadic Indo-Europeans (? Indo-Hittites)

The Principal Indo-European Languages & Their Characteristics

Linguistic Laws Governing The Change of Indo-Aryan Words Into English - The Lingua Franca of Modern Medical Science

Comparative Philological Examples According To Present Concepts

Alphabetical Charts showing Comparative inter-relationships of Sanskrit Words with the other members of the Indo-European Language Family and their Usage in Modern Medical Vocabulary

Selected Bibliography 122
List of illustrations with legends 129

Sample Page

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