Daily Archives: February 8, 2014

esophagogastroduodenoscopy

26 letters. Seriously, one for each letter of the alphabet, although this isn’t a pangram (though it is a synonym for panendoscopy). This is a long snake of a word. If you tried to swallow it, part of it would be in your stomach while part of it would still be sticking out of your mouth.

Which is just appropriate. Because this is a procedure where the doctor takes a snake with an eye on it – an endoscope – and runs it into your mouth, down your throat, into your stomach, and into the small intestine. That’s several stages. Let’s look at each of them.

Esophago refers to the esophagus. You may recognize the phag from other words to do with eating, such as macrophage, anthropophagy, and sarcophagus (‘flesh eater’ – how unpleasant). You may also see the eso as the ‘within’ root from words such as esoteric. But if you’re British you know that this is also spelled oesophagus and oesophagogastroduodenoscopy, which means it’s a different root – in fact, the Greek for esophagus is οἰσοϕάγος, which, if it hadn’t passed through Latin, would have given us oisophagos. So not ‘within’, but the actual root is unclear. Probably chewed too much before swallowing. Anyway, this segment, at first soft but then ending with a semi-hard voiced stop, refers to your gullet.

Gastro refers to your stomach. Not because you can get gas there, but just because of the Greek root that gives us gastrointestinal, gastronomy, gastropub, and so on: γαστήρ gastér ‘stomach’. This one starts with the semi-hard /g/ and then goes back to soft and crisp, with a bit of liquid /r/ too.

Duodeno refers to your duodenum, which is the first twelve inches of your small intestine, as you might already know. This word has just voiced stops and a nasal for consonants, and the vowels have suddenly become rounded (sort of like the tube of the duodenum). This part does not have a Greek root; it’s pure Latin, from the word for ‘twelve’ (referring to its length, twelve fingers long). So our word of today is mixed Latin and Greek. A word made of bits from different languages is called macaronic, because it’s mixed like macaroni (the original Italian dish, which is rather more than just some elbow noodles and cheese). So that’s what we’re digesting.

I’m sure you know the scopy already. Scop(e) is a root referring to looking; it comes from Greek, σκοπ skop, a variant of σκέπτεσθαι skeptesthai ‘look at’ (which you may recognize in skeptic). It’s visible in scopophilia but has nothing other than coincidence to do with copy.

Put them all together and you get a long word with a rhythm worthy of Stravinksy: a one-two-three one-two a-one-two-one-two-three. It’s worth a look, to be sure, though it may give you a sore throat. Which, incidentally, is a common aftereffect of having an esophagogastroduodenoscopy.