psephology (sēˈfäləjē)

Today is a historic day in the United States because a new president will be elected. Psephologists everywhere will be trying to analyze and predict the outcome of this year’s election.

Psephology comes from the Greek roots pseph– meaning pebble, and –logy, meaning study of. Logically, psephology should then be the study of pebbles or perhaps rocks. However, psephology is actually the study of voting and elections.

This may not initially make sense, until you realize that the Ancient Greeks utilized pebbles to vote for public officials. The Greeks would deposit a pebble into an urn to indicate the candidate they wished to elect.

You might also be interested in the derivation of two other words related to elections – candidate and vote. The word candidate comes from the Latin word candidatus, which literally means “clothed in white.” In ancient Rome, a person seeking a public office would wear a toga whitened with chalk. The word candidate came into the English language at the beginning of the 17th century.

The word vote ultimately comes from the Latin word votum, which means a vow or a wish. This could mean that when people cast a vote, they are wishing for a better future and hoping that the candidate that they are voting for will do everything in their power to honor their promises or vows.

Even though I am not old enough to vote, I will be accompanying my parents as they cast their votes today!



vexillology (veksəˈläləjē)


The Rio Olympics are well underway, making this a great time to engage in vexillology.

Vexillology is the study of flags. It originates from the Latin word vexillum, which means flag, and contains the Greek suffix -logy, which means study of.

There are 206 countries, each with their own unique flag, participating in this year’s Olympics. Some particularly fascinating flags belong to the countries of Nepal, Bhutan, and Japan. Bhutan’s flag depicts the national symbol of the country, Druk, the Thunder Dragon.  Nepal’s flag is the only flag in the world that is not rectangular or square; it consists of two pennants stacked on each other, which represent the peaks of the Himalayan mountains. Japan’s flag is beautiful in its simplicity – a solitary red disc, symbolizing the sun, on a white background.

The Olympic flag itself is quite interesting. It depicts five colorful rings, each of which represents a continent. The interlocking rings represent the unity of the continents and the meeting of athletes from all over the world.

Are any of you vexillophiles? If so, which flags are your favorite?

xenolinguist (zenə-liŋgwə̇st)

Nyota Uhura was portrayed by  Nichelle Nicols in the original Star Trek. Zoe Saldana currently portrays Uhura in the newer Star Trek movies. (Image from

Nyota Uhura was portrayed by Nichelle Nicols in the original Star Trek. Zoe Saldana currently portrays Uhura in the newer Star Trek movies. (Image from

Star Trek Beyond was released a few days ago and I couldn’t resist writing about one of my favorite Star Trek characters, Nyota Uhura. Lieutenant Uhura is the chief communications officer on the USS Enterprise. She is an expert in xenolinguistics and can speak and understand many alien languages, including Klingon and Romulan.

Xenolinguist comes from the Greek roots xeno-, meaning foreign, and lingu- meaning tongue. A xenolinguist is someone who is skilled in foreign languages, or in this case, alien languages.

I love this character because she is smart, beautiful, and strong.  Additionally, we both have a lot in common. We share a love of linguistics and our first names both mean “star.” Nyota means “star” in Swahili and Tara means “star” in Sanskrit. I would love to be a xenolinguist when I grow up!

Sicca syndrome

Sicca syndrome results in xerophthalmia and xerostomia. (Image from

Throughout this summer, let’s continue to explore medical words since they are a rich source of roots. Sicca syndrome is a condition in which the body exhibits signs and symptoms of extreme dryness because of abnormalities which occur with various glands.

The most common cause of Sicca syndrome is the autoimmune disease called *Sjogren’s (shōgrən) syndrome. Certain drugs, prior radiation therapy to the head, and hepatitis have also caused this syndrome.

Sicca (sikə) comes from the Latin word siccus, meaning dry. However, many symptoms are described by Greek roots. For example, patients can have xerostomia (zirəˈstōmēə) and xerophthalmia (ziˌräfˈthalmēə). The Greek root xero– means dry. The Greek roots stoma and ophthalmo mean mouth and eye respectively. Xerophthalmia  means “dry eyes” and xerostomia means “dry mouth.”

*after H.S.C. Sjögren, Swedish ophthalmologist

myasthenia (mīəsˈthēnēə)

This picture shows many symptoms characteristic of myasthenia. Note ptosis of the eyes and facial drooping due to muscle weakness. Image from


I apologize for the lengthy delay between posts. I have been very busy studying for the 2016 Scripps National Spelling Bee (more on that later)! To continue our medical theme, let’s explore the word myasthenia, which is a disease that causes muscle weakness in multiple organs.

Myasthenia, commonly known as myasthenia gravis, occurs when the body makes antibodies to nerve receptors, preventing them from telling muscles to contract correctly. Symptoms get worse with repetitive activity and improve with rest.

This disease affects many parts of the body. For example, in the eye, it causes ptosis (drooping of the eyelid) and diplopia (double vision). It can cause weakness in the jaw muscles, resulting in dysphagia (trouble swallowing). The voice can be affected with dysarthria (difficulty speaking). Rarely, myasthenia can affect the diaphragm muscle and result in breathing paralysis.

Myasthenia comes from the Greek roots myo-, meaning muscle, and -asthenia, meaning weakness. Myasthenia literally means “muscle weakness,” which aptly describes this affliction.


osteopoikilosis (ästēōpȯikə̇lōsə̇s)

My dad is a radiologist and he suggested that we start our medical theme with the word osteopoikilosis. Some diseases are best shown with medical imaging, which is what my dad is an expert in. This disease is a great example.

Osteopoikilosis is also known as “spotted bone disease.” Bone is made of two major parts: the cortical bone, which is on the outside, and the medullary bone, which is on the inside. When cortical bone forms islands inside the medullary bone in multiple locations in the body, osteopoikilosis occurs.

The disease is associated with symptoms such as joint pains, rashes, syndactyly (when digits fuse together), and dwarfism. It has a characteristic look on x-ray with bone islands concentrated around joints.

Osteopoikilosis comes from the Greek roots osteo- meaning bone, and poikilo- meaning spotted or variegated. The suffix -osis meaning condition of. Osteopoikilosis literally means “condition of spotted bone.”

ailurophobia (ī-ˌlu̇r-ə-ˈfō-bē-ə)

Ailurophobia is the fear of cats. "Gato negro" by Chosovi. Distributed under license CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons.

As Halloween approaches, people are busy decorating their houses with scary looking spiders, skeletons, and witches. Images of black cats are also a common decoration for Halloween; I see black cats with haunting eyes everywhere! In the United States, black cats are considered bad luck. But in other countries, like Japan, black cats are thought to bring good luck. For the last several months, a black cat has been roaming around in our yard. We see him almost every day. I like to think that this means that we will have good fortune!

Ailurophobia is the abnormal fear of cats. Ailurophobia comes from the Greek roots ailur- meaning cat and phobia meaning abnormal fear of. I know many more ailurophiles than ailurophobes – which one are you?