How did it come different languages share idiomatic expressions, or name something in same words?

Like, take word "inflammation" for example. In English, it's "in(ner)" and "flame". In Ukrainian, it's запалення, with за- prefix meaning "action that had started", and палення means "burning". In Japanese, 炎症 consists of 炎 — flame, and 症 — disease. In Russian, it's воспаление, with вос- being prefix meaning "inside out, from bottom to top", "паление" meaning "burning".

All these languages roughly refer to this medical condition as "inner flame". Why? Inflammation does not even resemble flame, it may be painless, and it does not necessarily give burning feeling, it may itch, prick or just be dull ache — definitely not what flame feels like. And I strongly doubt there was some English, Ukrainian, Japanese or Russian, who first said "Hmmm, guys, let's call this inner flame! Why not?", and everybody "yeah, that's so cool, we're going just to calque this into our languages". So why?

P.S. It's not the only example, I've had already stumbled across such words in the past, but unfortunately can't recall just now.

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    'Inflammation' is a fairly technical/medical concept, and I think it's actually quite plausible that it might have been calqued in a number of languages.
    – robert
    Commented Jun 13, 2014 at 8:48
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    Most dictionary definitions I can find do in fact make reference to fire-like properties. (E.g., from Wikipedia: "The classical signs of acute inflammation are pain, heat, redness, swelling, and loss of function." Commented Jun 13, 2014 at 12:31
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    I think this is not a bad naive question. Reasons can include being semantically logical, being calques, simple coincidence. It would be nice to see a well written up answer. Commented Jun 13, 2014 at 14:04

2 Answers 2


Russian воспаление features an Old Church Slavonic prefix вос-; suffix -ение isn't very typical for native East Slavic constructions either.

That is, it's a loanword from Old Church Slavonic. Old Church Slavonic was heavily influenced by Byzantine Greek, and Ancient Greek has ἀναφλεγμαίνω "to inflammate" which was used both literally and figuratively (in reference to sores) and which has an identical morphology.

I see it that in medieval physiology, they heavily relied on a few selected works published in Latin/Greek, which themselves could be inspired by some classical works. English "inflammation" is a loanword from Latin, and "phlegm" is a loanword from Greek as well (related to ἀναφλεγμαίνω mentioned above), they are not native English words. What I mean is that, this is all technical/medical terms, not something invented/used by common people (otherwise we'd have native words here, not loanwords), so the chances are very high it's all just loanwords/calques from some common classical source (scientific/medical work).

Don't know about Japanese, though.

  • It seems that 炎症 was coined by the British medical missionary Benjamin Hobson. The earliest citation in the historical Japanese dictionary Nihon Kokugo Daijiten is from 1872.
    – user2081
    Commented Jan 31, 2015 at 13:29

"Inflammation" is not (as you claim) "in(ner) and flame". It is from Latin inflammare "to cause something to burst into flame" (in + flammare).

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