Rheumatology Etymology

The medical world is full of words with long histories and multiple meanings. Here are a few commonly used in the field of rheumatology with their definitions and where they came from.



Merriam-Webster’s defines “arthritis” as the “inflammation of joints due to infectious, metabolic, or constitutional cases.” Its first known use was in 1543 from the Greek arthron, meaning joint. More than 100 known types of arthritis exist today.


  1. Arthritis. Merriam-Webster Dictionary and Thesaurus website. Available at: www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/arthritis. Accessed July 20, 2011.
  2. Arthritis. PubMed Health. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0002223/. Accessed July 20, 2011.
  3. Definition of “arthron.” From Mosby’s Medical Dictionary, 8th edition. 2009, Elsevier. Available at: http://medical-dictionary.the freedictionary.com/arthron. Accessed July 20, 2011.



Encyclopædia Britannica lists rheumatism as “any of several disorders that have in common inflammation of the connective tissues, especially the muscles, joints, and associated structures.” The word derives from the Greek rheumatismos, coined by Galen of Pergamum, a philosopher, physician, and pioneer of medical practice, in the 2nd century CE. Today, few if any doctors use the word “rheumatism” to describe a specific medical condition, although it still exists as a colloquialism.


  1. Rheumatism. (2011). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Available at: http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/501241/rheumatism. Accessed July 20, 2011.
More than 100 known types of arthritis exist today.

More than 100 known types of arthritis exist today.



(deep-joint injection steroids, topical steroids)

For “steroid,” Webster’s says, “any of numerous natural or synthetic compounds containing a 17-carbon 4-ring system and including the sterols and various hormones and glycosides.” When referring to a steroid that treats inflammation, the word is short for “corticosteroid” because it resembles the body’s natural hormone cortisol (as opposed to an anabolic steroid used for building muscle).


  1. Steroid. Merriam-Webster Dictionary and Thesaurus website. Available at: http://www.merriam-webster.com/medical/steroid?show=0&t=1311193274. Accessed July 20, 2011.
  2. Steroids to Treat Arthritis. WebMD. Available at: http://www.webmd.com/rheumatoid-arthritis/guide/steroids-to-treat-arthritis. Accessed July 20, 2011.



First used in the 13th century from the middle English jointe and the Anglo-French joindre, Webster’s Medical Dictionary calls a joint “the point of contact between elements of an animal skeleton whether movable or rigidly fixed together with the surrounding and supporting parts (as membranes, tendons, or ligaments).”


  1. joint. Merriam-Webster Dictionary and Thesaurus website. Available at: http://www.merriam-webster.com/medical/joint. Accessed July 20, 2011.



Short for lupus erythematosus, the term comes from 14th century Middle English from the Latin for wolf, the reason being that physicians of the time described lupus’s symptoms as “a hungry wolf eating the flesh.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *