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25 Fancy Medical Terms for Mundane Problems

Arika Okrent
Don't call it a sneeze!
Don't call it a sneeze! / Nikola Stojadinovic (woman sneezing), Ajwad Creative (speech bubble)
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Your health issues might be mundane, but that’s no reason to be boring. Give your complaints some interesting heft with these fancy medical terms for commonplace problems.

1. and 2. Obdormition and Paresthesia

That numb feeling that you wake to when you’ve slept on your arm wrong is obdormition. It is followed by a pricking, tingling sensation called paresthesia.

3. Sphenopalatine Ganglioneuralgia

Say this term for an ice cream headache five times fast to warm up your mouth and relieve the brain freeze.

4. Fasciculation

If you ever feel the sudden flutter under your skin from a small bundle of muscle fibers spontaneously contracting, you can say you’re experiencing fasciculation (from fasciculus, “little bundle”).

5. and 6. Heloma Molle and Heloma Durum

That callus on your foot may be soft, in which case it’s a heloma molle. If it's hard, it's a heloma durum.

7. Transient Lingual Papillitis

One tiny, swollen taste bud looks like no big deal in the mirror, but feels distractingly humongous in your mouth. It has a big name to match that big feeling: transient lingual papillitis.

8. and 9. Onychocryptosis and Unguis Incarnatus

If you want to go Greek when describing your ingrown toenail, it’s onychocryptosis (“hidden nail”), but if you prefer Latin, stick with unguis incarnatus (“nail in flesh”).

10. Aphthous Stomatitis

Aphthous stomatitis, the word for canker sores, is hard to say even without canker sores.

11. Morsicatio Buccarum

You know how sometimes you bite the inside of your cheek by accident, and then you get that little ridge of tissue that sticks out so that you end up biting it again and again? That’s morsicatio buccarum, baby.

12. Transient Diaphragmatic Spasm

Getting the wind knocked out of you feels bad, but doesn’t last very long. Just a transient diaphragmatic spasm.

13. Synchronous Diaphragmatic Flutter

The more rhythmic diaphragm action of the hiccup is a synchronous diaphragmatic flutter.

14. Sternutate

Why sneeze when you can sternutate?

15. Muscae Volitantes

What are those little transparent threads you can see floating across your eyeball when you pay close attention? Just muscae volitantes (“flying flies”) the name for the little bits of protein or other material in the jelly inside your eye.

16. and 17. Nocturnal Enuresis and Diurnal Enuresis

If you wet the bed at night it’s nocturnal enuresis. If you have accidents during the day it’s diurnal enuresis.

18. Vasovagal Syncope

If you faint at the sight of blood or upon hearing some shocking news, it’s probably vasovagal syncope, an automatic response mediated by the vagus nerve. Tightly laced corsets only make it worse.

19. Orthostatic Hypotension

If a dizzy, head rush feeling is brought on by standing up too fast, it’s orthostatic hypotension.

20. Borborygmi

All that rumbling and gurgling in the stomach and guts goes by the name borborygmi.

21. Horripilation

The Latin horrere originally referred to bristling, or hair standing on end, a sense captured by the word for goose bumps, horripilation.

22. Gustatory Rhinitis

When your nose is running while you’re spooning in that spicy soup, you’ve got gustatory rhinitis.

23. Crepitus

All that popping, creaking, and cracking of joints when you get out of bed in the morning goes by the name of crepitus, from the Latin for “rattle, crack.” The word decrepit goes back to the same root.

24. Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome

People aren’t very impressed by shin splints, but they might be impressed by medial tibial stress syndrome.

25. Veisalgia

Overdid it last night? Just explain to your boss that you’ve got a bit of veisalgia. This fancy word for hangover was coined in a 2000 paper in a medical journal. It combines the Norwegian word kveis (“uneasiness following debauchery”) with the Greek word for pain.

A version of this story ran in 2017; it has been updated for 2022.

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