contralateral

In response to yesterday’s posting about contra, a friend wrote that her head was spinning “counter-clockwise or clockwise, I’m not sure.” Yes, etymology can pack a powerful punch. My friend also wrote that “the word contralateral is floating through my brain.” The Spanish and English word lateral, which means ‘to the side, on the side,’ comes from Latin latus ‘side,’ the forerunner of the synonymous Spanish lado. As a result, the fancy Spanish and English term contralateral, which is used in anatomy and medicine, means ‘occurring on the opposite side of the body [from whatever has just been mentioned].’ As an example of usage, I’ll point to a 2009 medical communiqué whose headline was “Investigadores identifican los factores de riesgo para el cáncer de mama contralateral.” The English version bore the headline “Researchers identify risk factors for contralateral breast cancer.”

The term contrary to contralateral is ipsilateral, whose first element comes from Latin ipse ‘same, self, selfsame.’ In the book Alphabet Juice, Roy Blount Jr. said of ipsilateral: “This is not a word you’ll ever need, but I thought it might cheer you up.” I find, and I hope you’ll find, no reason to contradecir/contradict his cheerful thought.

© 2010 Steven Schwartzman

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If you encounter an unfamiliar technical term in any of these postings, check the Glossary in the bar across the top of the page.
©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
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