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Greek Letter vs Word

Greek Letters

Brenda Gregoline

Greek Letter vs Word

The editors of JAMA and the Archives Journals prefer the use of Greek letters rather than spelled-out words, unless usage dictates otherwise. Consult Dorland's and Stedman's medical dictionaries for general terms. These sources may differ in the representation of terms, ie, α-fetoprotein (symbol) (Stedman's) and alpha fetoprotein (Dorland's). If the Greek letter, rather than the word, is found in either of these sources for the item in question, use the letter in preference to the word.

  • For chemical terms, the use of Greek letters is almost always preferred.


  • For electroencephalographic terms, use the word (see 15.11.2, Nomenclature, Neurology, Electroencephalographic Terms).

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  • For drug names that contain Greek letters, consult the sources listed in 15.4, Nomenclature, Drugs, for preferred usage. In some cases, when the Greek letter is part of the word, as in betamethasone, the Greek letter is spelled out and set closed up. For some names, the approved nonproprietary name takes the word and not the letter, as in beta carotene, with an intervening space. (However, the chemical name for beta carotene is β-carotene.)

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