Greek genesis, birth or origin, a root we discovered in discussing psychogenic, is the source of a great many English words.
Genetics is the science that deals with the transmission of hereditary characteristics from parents to offspring. The scientist specializing in the field is a geneticist, the adjective is genetic . The particle carried on the chromosome of the germ cell containing a hereditary characteristic is a gene (JEEN).
Genealogy is the study of family trees or ancestral origins (logos, study). The practitioner is a genealogist.
The genital, or sexual, organs are involved in the process of conception and birth. The genesis of anything – a plan, idea, thought, career, etc. – is its beginning, birth, or origin, and Genesis, the first book of Old Testament, describes the creation, or birth, of the universe.
Congenital is constructed by combining the prefix con-, with or together, and the root genesis, birth.
So a congenital defect, deformity, etc. occurs during the nine-month birth process (or period of gestation, to become technical). Hereditary (hi-RED’-i-ter’-i) characteristics, on the other hand, are acquired at the moment of conception. Thus, eye colour, nose shape, hair texture, and other such qualities are hereditary; they are determined by the genes in the germ cells of the mother and father. But a thalidomide baby resulted from the use of the drug by a pregnant woman, so the deformities were congenital.
Congenital is used both literally and figuratively. Literally, the word generally refers to some medical deformity or abnormality occurring during gestation. Figuratively, it wildly exaggerates, for effect, the very early existence of some quality: congenital liar, congenital fear of the dark, etc.
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