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Sep 2013

Origin of the Word Menopause

in News Headlines /


Menopause is a period in a woman’s life defined by the definitive end of the menstrual cycle. Yet the term menopause incorporates the word “pause” suggesting that menstruation may resume when it does not. After all, there is no shortage of words for when something stops indefinitely: end, stop, cessation, termination, etc… The answer to this mystery is found in the origin of the word.

In 1821 a French physician named de Gardanne first coined the term menopause when he published his book “De la ménopause, ou de l’âge critique des femmes” using the term menopause to describe the phase in a woman’s life.  So the English term menopause came from the French term ménopause. So now the question is, how did de Gardanne come up with the word ménopause?

Being a physician, de Gardanne was using medical terminology when he coined the term menopause.  Virtually all medical terminology comes from ancient Latin or ancient Greek. So the French term ménopause came from the medical Latin term “menopausis”. Medical Latin was created at the time of the renaissance when Greek was no longer widely understood. Medical Latin is a form of Latin that retained numerous Greek medical terms. The word “menopausis” is one of those terms which is actually a Greek term but was translated into medical Latin.

The Ancient Greek roots of the term menopause are: “men” + “pauein.” The word “men” means month which is closely related to word for moon “mene” because the months were measured by the moon.  The word “pauein” means to cause to cease or stop. So the Greek term pauein from which the word “pause” is derived actually does mean to stop rather than pause. Interestingly enough, the modern English term “pause” is actually derived from the same Greek term pauein. By the 15th century pauein became “pausee” in Old French where it came to imply a temporary stop and eventually became the English term pause.

So the reason why the word is menopause and not menostop is the term’s unique history. When looking at a word like menopause we must not assume that the modern roots give the word meaning, but go all the way back to the Ancient Greeks.

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