In this post I’m going to talk about four medical dictionaries that I use in my daily work. With the wealth of resources available online you may wonder why I use these cumbersome tomes. Weighing a grand total of just over 12 kg, they don’t just come in handy as bookends. These dictionaries have advantages that are hard to come by when researching terms online.
In fact I decided to write this post after checking out a link that was shared on Twitter a couple of days ago. The page gives a list of online dictionaries ordered by language and I was disappointed that many of the Spanish links were either broken or of quite dubious quality. When you search the Internet for medical terminology, the source is of vital importance, so I’ll be looking into reliable online resources in a future post. In the meantime, here are four quality printed dictionaries that I know I can count on.
Click the dictionary titles to visit Amazon.co.uk for price details. Advance warning: these books do not come at pocket money prices.
“Diccionario de Términos Médicos”, or the DTM, edited by the Real Academia Nacional de Medicina (Editorial Médica Panamericana), is a brand new dictionary that was published at the end of last year. The print version is only Spanish to English, which isn’t a problem for me, but is a bit of a stumbling block for translators who work in the reverse direction. It gives detailed explanations of different terms and I particularly like the extra information about obsolete and incorrect terms (indicated with a strikethrough font). For example, foot and mouth disease isn’t enfermedad pie-boca (indicated in strikethough), but glosopeda. And spinal cord is médula espinal (cuerda espinal is obsolete). There is an online version, which is essential if you want to search for English terms.
“Diccionario crítico de dudas inglés-español de medicina” by Fernando Navarro (McGraw-Hill) is the English-Spanish translator’s bible. It’s only available in the EN>ES direction, but is still very useful when you know the translation of a Spanish term and you want to read up on its different usages. For example, you can check up all the forms of euthanasia (surrogate, discriminatory, involuntary and encouraged). There are also useful warnings when false friends rear their heads – so, you will see that fatal in English shouldn’t be translated as fatal in Spanish, but as mortal. I’ve got the 2005 edition, but I’ve heard on the Twitter grapevine that a new edition of the “red book” is planned. * Click here for news about Cosnautas, the new online version.
“STEDMAN BILINGÜE Diccionario de Ciencias Médicas” (Editorial Médica Panamericana) is the only truly bilingual dictionary in my list, as the first half is English-Spanish and the second half is español-inglés. The biggest drawback is that my edition dates back to 1999, and after searching online, I haven’t found a more up-to-date version. So although it’s not much good for new techniques, genetics and innovative drugs, it’s fine for checking up on anatomical terms, older procedures, etc. I must admit, though, it has started to gather the dust since the DTM came out.
“Diccionario politécnico de las lenguas española e inglesa” by Federico Beigbeder Atienza (Ediciones Diaz de Santos, S.A.) isn’t only medical but covers many other technical subjects, as its name suggests. It comes in two volumes, one for each language direction, and they can be purchased separately. With over 300,000 entries, there’s a fair chance of finding the word you’re looking for, but you have to be careful because there are no detailed definitions and you have to decide which of the 3 or 4 alternatives is the right one in your context. The latest edition came out in 2008. * See updated post on new online version.
In addition to the individual advantages each dictionary offers, the enjoyment I get from leafing through a real book is a huge plus for me. It can’t be denied that reference books soon go out of date and I do miss hitting Ctrl+F to find an entry in a split second, but I love reading up on the term I’m researching, then checking out a couple above it and a couple below it, followed by a read through the next column on the page… It must be one of the most educational ways of procrastinating!