Learn English – The meaning of the word “hemophilia”


In medical terminology, words are often combined of Greek and Latin roots and affixes. And we can recognize the meaning of a word by knowing the meaning of the prefix, the root and the suffix. The word "hemophilia" consists of a prefix " hemo-" meaning "blood" and a suffix "-philia" meaning " attraction to". Thus the whole meaning of the term means " a condition of attraction to blood". However, the word is defined in medical usage as " an inherited genetic disorder that impairs the body's ability to make blood clots". I was wondering if there is any reasonable explanation for this.

Best Answer

Hemophilia is the English version of the original German coinage (Hämophilie). Sometimes names don't make a lot of sense etymologically. Here is a fairly detailed account of its etymology:

The word “haemophilia” appears to have been documented for the first time in 1828 by the German physician, Johann Lukas Schönlein and his student Friedrich Hopff, who described the condition in his dissertation, “Über die Hämophilie oder die erbliche Anlage zu tödtlichen Blutungen” (“About haemophilia or the hereditary predisposition to fatal bleeding”) at the University of Zurich, Switzerland [7].

As Brinkhous explains in his 1970s essay on the history of haemophilia [1], the term “haemophilia” actually means “affinity to blood”, which is not how we would describe the condition today. Although mentioned by Hopff, Schönlein was probably not in favour of the term “haemophilia” as he himself preferred to use the term “haemorraphilia” (“affinity to bleed”) [8]. Afterwards, however, the two terms were eventually used synonymously. Interestingly, during the 1850s, the term “haemorraphilia” appears to have fallen from favour and “haemophilia” became the preferred descriptor [7], probably as a result of the publication of Grandidier’s monograph in 1855 (see references [1] ; [3]).
The history of haemophilia – a short review

I have linked best I can to all the sources they cite, but not all are freely viewable and some are written in German.