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AMIA Annu Symp Proc. 2012;2012:463-7. Epub 2012 Nov 3.

Metonymies in medical terminologies. A SNOMED CT case study.

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Institute for Medical Informatics, Statistics and Documentation, Medical University, Graz, Austria.


Metonymies are language phenomena, in which one expression is used to refer to a related one. Whereas there are many examples in medical discourse, it has been controversially discussed to what extent metonymic phenomena also matter in medical terminologies like SNOMED CT, where they could hamper their proper use. We investigated this by analyzing all SNOMED CT single word fully specified names containing the suffixes "-itis" and "-ectomy". Using a combination of string and concept matching, we harvested definitional phrases from the Web and contrasted them with the terms and their logical definitions as stated in SNOMED CT. Whereas metonymic phenomena are very rare in the collection of surgical terms (two out of 138), they were found in 16 terms (out of 251) in the collection of inflammation terms. Web mining retrieved useful phrases for 11 of these terms. Most metonymies found corresponded to the "whole for part" and "general for specific" pattern.

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