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J R Soc Med. 2004 June; 97(6): 310–311.
PMCID: PMC1079514

The language of medicine

Professor Wulff, in his fascinating paper (April 2004 JRSM1), says that ‘Medical Latin continued to be ordinary Latin with the admixture of numerous Greek and Latin medical terms’. This statement needs to be qualified by adding that it was ordinary mediaeval Latin. The Latin language had evolved over the centuries and by the time that it had become the lingua franca of medicine in the later Middle Ages there were a number of grammatical and stylistic changes from classical Latin, certainly as the latter was taught in British schools 50 years ago. In 1997 I was completely unable to achieve even a tolerable translation of a passage from the Statuta Vetera (1601) of the College of Physicians, so sent it to my son's fiancće who was reading for a master's degree in mediaeval history at Oxford. She too was stumped and gave it to her tutor who, having agreed that it was indeed a difficult passage, set it in an examination! Subsequently I discovered an English translation from 1637 which was considerably more elegant than that provided by the tutor.


1. Wulff HR. The language of medicine. J R Soc Med 2004;97: 187-8 [PMC free article] [PubMed]

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