Rationale of the Week | What does “Diabetes Mellitus” really mean?

This month, we are quizzing test takers on the history of diabetes. Our November 9th Question of the week quizzed test takers on Diabetes Mellitus. 49% of respondents, chose the best answer. We are excited to share this info with you in celebration of National Diabetes Month.

Before we start though, if you don’t want any spoilers and haven’t tried the question yet, you can answer below: Answer Question


The term diabetes mellitus is derived from Greek and Latin languages, with roots dating back to the Greek physician Demetrius of Apamea in 129-199 AD.

Which is the most accurate translation of the term diabetes mellitus in English?

Answer Choices:

  • Passing through of honey or sweetness.
  • Siphoning of sugared urine.
  • Wasting disease due to sweetness.
  • Evil urinating disease.

As shown above, the most common choice was option 1, the second most common answer was option 3, then option 2, and finally option 4.

Getting to the Best Answer

If you are thinking about taking the certification exam, this practice test question will set you up for success. Test writers anticipate possible answers based on the details in the question. They will wave those “juicy answers” that seem so familiar to you, right under your nose. Your job is to weed through, eliminate FALSE answers and then choose the BEST answer.

A short history of the evolution of the term “Diabetes mellitus
The ancient Egyptians described clinical features of diabetes over 3000 years ago. Indian physicians called it madhumeha (‘honey urine’) because it attracted ants.

However, the term “diabetes” (Greek for ‘siphon’) was first used by Greek physician Demetrius of Apamea in 129-199 AD. The findings of sweet urine and blood was first noticed by ancient Indians. A few thousand years later, the Latin word “mellitus” (‘sweet like honey’) was coined by the British Surgeon-General, John Rollo in 1798.

History of the Islets and Insulin:
Paul Langerhans, 22 and working on his medical doctorate in 1869, identified the beta cells that came to be known as the ‘islets of Langerhans’. The name insulin was based on the secretions of the islets (Latin, insula = island). The term insulin was coined in 1909 and 1910, individually by de Mayer and Schaefer, respectively. Read more in this article, The History of Diabetes Mellitus, 2013 by Ritu Lakhtakia.

Answer 1 is correct. 48.99% chose this answer, “Passing through of honey or sweetness.” YES, GREAT JOB! The term “diabetes” is Greek for ‘siphon or passing through and the “mellitus” is Latin for “sweet like honey”.

Answer 2 is incorrect. 19.89% of you chose this answer, “Siphoning of sugared urine.” This is a juicy answer, but there is no Latin or Greek word for “urine” in the term “diabetes mellitus”.

Answer 3 is incorrect. 22.73% of respondents chose this answer, “Wasting disease due to sweetness.” Another juicy answer, but there is no Latin or Greek word for “wasting disease” in the term diabetes mellitus.

Finally, Answer 4 is incorrect. 8.39% chose this answer, “Evil urinating disease.” Some people might favor this term, but the term “diabetes mellitus” only describes the passing through of honey as a medical observation. There is no judgment associated with it.

Want to learn more about this fascinating topic? Read more in this article, The History of Diabetes Mellitus, 2013 by Ritu Lakhtakia.

We hope you appreciate this week’s rationale! Thank you so much for taking the time to answer our Question of the Week and participate in this fun learning activity!

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