EP word of the week (#109): medula espinal / espinal medula

Continuing our trip into the human body, let’s get on our backs  to examine the linguistical differences among the Portuguese variants for a very important organ: I’m talking about the spinal cord!

Since the spinal cord is a long tube of nervous tissue partly inside the vertebral column, its name in many languages, and in particular the Romance language, connects this spinal connection with the general concept of marrow (from Latin medulla, something in the middle of something else); in Portuguese, marrow is [a] medula (see also bone marrow = [a] médula óssea, from [o] ossobone), while the spine is [a] coluna / [a] coluna vertebral / [a] espinha.

In Portuguese medical circles, the spinal cord is known [a] medula espinal or [a] espinal medula, but sometimes as [a] medula espinhal [1]; the latter is much more common in Brazil, and usually the sole alternative in medical environments.

Translation: Patients frequently mix up the bone marrow with the spinal cord (SNC), but they have nothing to do with each other. The spinal cord belongs to the nervous system and it goes from the brain to the tailbone, running through the holes located behind the body of the vertebrae.

The difference can be chalked up to distinct translations from the original Latin adjective spinalis: espinal is a truer transference from Latin to Portuguese, in the sense that it preserved the original /n/ sound; espinhal an adaptation into the modern language, adjusting the adjective to its referent noun, which has you know from the previous paragraphs has evolved into a different sound, in this case /ɲ/ (or, in some Brazilian, Angolan and Santomean dialects something akin to a nasal semivowel, /ȷ̃/).



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