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From French pathologie, from Ancient Greek πάθος (páthos, disease) and -λογία (-logía, study of).


  • IPA(key): /pəˈθɒləd͡ʒi/
  • (file)
  • Rhymes: -ɒləd͡ʒi


pathology (usually uncountable, plural pathologies)

  1. The study of the nature of disease and its causes, processes, development, and consequences; now usually and especially in the clinical and academic medicine subsenses defined below.
    1. (clinical medicine) The clinical biomedical specialty that provides microscopy and other laboratory services to clinicians (e.g., cytology, histology, cytopathology, histopathology, cytometry).
      The surgeon sent a specimen of the cyst to the hospital's pathology department for staining and analysis to determine its histologic subtype.
    2. (academic medicine) The academic biomedical specialty that advances the aspects of the biomedical sciences that allow for those clinical applications and their advancements over time.
      Those three pioneering pathologists went on to become leaders in building the pathology departments at several universities.
    3. (biology, life sciences) Any of several interrelated scientific disciplines that advance the aspects of the life sciences that allow for such technological applications and their advancements over time.
      the plant pathology and vertebrate pathology programs of the university's biology department
  2. Pathosis: any deviation from a healthy or normal structure or function; abnormality; illness or malformation.
    Some sort of renal pathology was suspected, but imaging and even biopsy found no discernible pathology, glomerular or otherwise.
    Some sort of mental and social pathology seemed to sweep over the discourse later that autumn.
    Synonyms: abnormality, disease, illness, pathosis

Usage notes[edit]

Some house style guides for medical publications avoid the "illness" sense of pathology (disease, state of ill health) and replace it with pathosis. The rationale is that the -ology form should be reserved for the "study of disease" sense and for the medical specialty that provides microscopy and other laboratory services (e.g., cytology, histology) to clinicians. This rationale drives similar usage preferences about etiology ("cause" sense versus "study of causes" sense), methodology ("methods" sense versus "study of methods" sense), and other -ology words.

Not all such natural usage can be purged gracefully, but the goal is to reserve the -ology form to its "study" sense when practical. Not all publications bother with this prescription, because most physicians don't do so in their own speech (and the context makes clear the sense intended).

Another limitation is that pathology (illness) has an adjectival form (pathologic), but the corresponding adjectival form of pathosis (pathotic) is idiomatically missing from English (defective declension), so pathologic is obligate for both senses ("diseased" and "related to the study of disease"); this likely helps keep the "illness" sense of pathology in natural use (as the readily retrieved noun counterpart to pathologic in the "diseased" sense).

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