Peter Childs, University of Limerick, investigates words in chemistry

Using a fan to dry armpit sweat

Source: Jupiterimages

Hyperhidrosis - he sure needs to cool down

If you suffered from hyperhidrosis it would mean that you perspired excessively and your problem was too much sweating. The hyper- prefix means much or greater, and hidrosis is the technical name for sweat, which derives from the Greek for sweat hidros. Perspiration comes from the Latin perspirare meaning to breathe through, which is from spirare meaning to breathe (as in expire and inspire). So the sweat breathes through your skin. If excessive perspiration is your problem, you need an antiperspirant to stop you sweating. Antiperspirant products contain chemicals (eg aluminium salts) that block the pores on the surface of your skin, and a deodorant to kill odour-causing bacteria on the skin surface and to mask the smells they produce.  

Processes and medical conditions

The -osis ending is very common and means either a process (as in metamorphosis) or the formation of something (eg hidrosis, fibrosis etc) or describes a medical condition where something is formed, such as tuberculosis. There are many examples. 

  • Acidosis, the over production of acid in the blood.  
  • Halitosis is used to describe bad breath but the term comes from the Latin halitus, which means breath rather than bad breath.  
  • Cyanosis, a condition caused by carbon monoxide poisoning, where the victim turns blue because of the formation of carboxyhaemoglobin in the blood, replacing oxyhaemoglobin. Cyan is from the Greek for blue, kuaneos, and is the root of cyanide, which also turns poisoning victims blue. 
  • Chalcosis, copper poisoning. 
  • Arsenicosis, arsenic poisoning. 
  • Pneumoconiosis, a disease of the lungs or breathing produced by inhaling fine dust particles, eg silicosis which is caused by inhaling fine silicate particles. In 1935 the longest word in the English language was coined to describe the condition - pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis - but even at 45 letters it can't compete with many systematic chemical names.  
  • Narcosis, falling asleep or becoming unconsciousness as result of the over-consumption of narcotics, which are sleep-inducing drugs. The prefix narco- is derived from the Greek narke, meaning numbness, and a narkotikos is something that makes you numb.  
  • Ketosis, the production of ketones (from the German for acetone, keton), a condition common to diabetics and recognised by the smell of acetone in the urine.  
  • Osmosis, from the Greek osmos, meaning a push, refers to the process of solvent molecules passing through a membrane.  
  • Osteoporosis where a loss of calcium causes bone (osteon in Greek) to become more porous and brittle. 
  • Pyosis is the formation of pus, from the Latin pus

Psychosis is a severe mental disorder, the production of a disturbed soul, and the prefix pyscho- comes from the Greek for soul, psukhe. A similar but milder mental disturbance is neurosis, which was originally ascribed to 'bad nerves' - the Greek word neuron means nerve. Being nervous often makes you sweat, so neurosis might in turn induce hidrosis.