Borborygmi: the rumblings of your stomach

This morning I read a good (and ‘gud-gud’) piece written by Indraneel Majumdar which talked about the nocturnal rumblings of an overworked stomach. It instantly transported me back to my medical school lecture theatre, where Dr Jalgaonkar, our polished professor would elaborate in eloquent detail how to place our stethoscopes on the abdomen and listen to peristaltic movements.

I was never interested in those details, until he mentioned that curious technical term which is used to describe the loud rumbles of an empty stomach- borborygmi! And since that day, every time a dreary lecture extended beyond lunch time, and I heard my stomach make a gud-gud sound, I would religiously scrawl what I heard in the margins of my notebook: borborygmi!

What a fascinating word! I decided to explore the etymology of this word. It turns out that this word had its origins in the Greek language, and it has onomatopoetic origins. Wondering which Greek guy had his stomach sing bor-bory-gmi and what he ate before that!

At the risk of sounding like Shashi Tharoor, let me add to your vocabulary of onomatopoeic words. Onomatopoeic words are words which phonetically resemble the sounds they describe. The commonest ones are how we describe animal sounds: the ‘meow’ of a cat, the ‘moo’ of a cow, the ‘baa’ of a sheep, or the ‘quack’ of a duck. But given my love for the feathered kinds, I notice that there are birds like the ‘cuckoo’, ‘hoopoe’ or the ‘koel’ which have onomatopoeic names. Why, even the crow is called ‘kaakaa’ in Tamil!

Coming to the medical terms which I encounter often, did you realize that some of the common words we doctors use are actually onomatopoeic: ‘cough’, ‘hiccup’, ‘gargle’, ‘belch’- all simulate what they sound like.

With the profuse infiltration of technology in our lives, it isn’t surprising that we refer to the ‘tick-tock’ of a clock (‘tik-tik’ of a ghadi in Hindi), the ‘beep’ of an alarm, the ‘honk’ of a horn, the ‘click’ of a pen or the ‘fizz’ of a soda. But did you realize that names of common devices like ‘zip’, ‘flip-flops’ or ‘flush’ also have onomatopoeic origins?

So that’s your English lesson for the day! Why in the world do I teach Pathology instead?! Did I hear you ‘murmur’ something about my class?

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