What is hand surgery, anyway?

Last year I spent a lot of time working with a wonderful hand surgeon, and want to make sure that my hand surgery vocabulary is up to snuff in case I end up with him again.  Last year Zipf’s Law pulled its usual crap on me—like, when you go to see a hand surgeon, the first question he asks is, “are you right-handed or left-handed?”, and I knew how to say “left-handed”–zurdo, which everyone learns in school because it’s easy to confuse with sordo, “mute”–but, I had no clue how to say “right-handed.”  (Turns out it’s diestro.)  For today, I’m starting with a web page that gives a general description of hand surgery.  Zipf’s Law raises its ugly head in the very first sentence, of course.

  • amplia: adjective with a range of meanings including wide, spacious, loose.
  • gama: range, spectrum.  Having looked up these two words, I can finally understand THE FIRST SENTENCE of the web page defining what plastic surgery is: Cirugía de la mano es un término general que incorpora una amplia gama de diferentes tipos de cirugía de la mano. 
  • colgajo: flap, as in colgajo de piel, “skin flap.”
  • suministro: supply, as in suministro de sangre, “blood supply.”
  • ubicación: location, whereabouts, position.

Zipf’s Law is embarrassing sometimes

I’m getting ready for a trip to Guatemala to spend a week interpreting for a wonderful bunch of surgeons.  Check out Surgicorps–it’s a great group, and you should totally donate.

The embarrassing thing about Zipf’s Law is that it often leads you to stumble on words that aren’t unusual at all.  For example: preparing for a trip means spending lots of time listening to the radio in the relevant language.  A few weeks ago, I was listening to a “health and beauty” show in Spanish.  The host used the word recetar, where I would have expected prescribir.  Both mean to prescribe.  I knew the word receta “prescription” (also “recipe”), but just had never heard the verbal form recetar before.  Had no clue it existed.  Unusual?  Only in the sense of rare, and then no more “unusual” than anything else.  Zipf’s Law.