Cool Vocabulary You Totally Don't Need

Had lunch with a former co-worker yesterday. I hadn’t seen her since my wedding. She told me she had recently had surgery to have a 畸胎瘤 removed. What is that? Well, means “deformity,” means “fetus,” and means “tumor” (or similar growth). As far as I can tell, this is called “fetus in fetu” in English.

What happened to my friend is that when she was originally in the womb, she had a twin, but her twin did not develop normally. Her body enveloped her twin’s, which stayed tiny, and was not even noticeable. It lived on inside her as a parasitic twin, without a brain. Over the years, it remained in her abdomen and very slowly grew larger until it was the size of an apple. It was causing discomfort, was discovered, and was finally removed.

Crazy vocabulary acquisition!

P.S. Don’t Baidu/Google image search the words above unless you want nightmares!

UPDATE: 畸胎瘤 is actually teratoma in English (thanks, Henning!). What my friend described to me was fetus in fetu, though, so something doesn’t add up.


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. Ever seen “My Big Fat Greek Wedding?”

    “All my life, I had a lump at the back of my neck, right here. Always, a lump. Then I started menopause and the lump got bigger from the “hormonees.” It started to grow. So I go to the doctor, and he did the bio… the b… the… the bios… the… b… the “bobopsy.” Inside the lump he found teeth and a spinal cord. Yes. Inside the lump was my twin.”
    …creepy but hilarious in the movie

    My latest useless vocabulary came from watching CSI on Tasacs Disease apparently translates as 家族黑蒙性白痴病.

  2. I didn’t even know the English for that boggle.

  3. I never heard of this in English before either. Somehow I doubt I’ll ever need to use those Chinese characters. Actually, I hope I’ll never have to know them.

  4. Did you teach her “TMI”? Couldn’t she have just said that she had a tooth pulled?

  5. Directly to my agenda. Never know when some words can come in handy.

    As John said, don’t Google it, it’s really disgusting. But Baiduization looks OK. Sweet nice censorship…

  6. Matt,

    Ah, yes, I have seen that movie, but I had forgotten about that part.

    The weirdest thing for me is after they remove it, it’s just an unwanted piece of biological waste, but at one point, it was set to be your twin sibling. You don’t even want to look at it because it’s disgusting and it was inside your body for so long, but it almost seems wrong not to at least bury it.

  7. Pete,

    Heh, but it’s actually really fascinating! This is one of the reasons I like this friend: that she would so matter-of-factly tell me she had a parasitic twin surgically removed recently. That’s awesome.

  8. Stephen King wrote a whole book around this once, I forgot the title and the plot, but remember that that was the first time I read something like this was even possible. Will do an image search when home, not at work 😀

  9. Lu,

    Ah, The Dark Half. (I looked it up.)

    Here’s a YouTube video of a case of “fetus in fetu” in India.

    I still can’t believe this happened to my friend!

  10. Guys: you’ve got the wrong end of the stick.

    Fetus in fetu and such things certainly do not occur but this is (as far as I can tell from the description) a little different. It is possible to have fetus heads growing from the heads of other fetuses and so on (I’m told)…

    But what this refers to is probably a “simple” teratoma. It is a tumour consisting of various random body elements. What happens is that undifferentiated cell lines grow within the tumour. Random things like teeth, hair and so on grow within the tumour. There is no baby or anything like that or grown inside. It’s not terribly uncommon; I’ve seen a couple. My pathology tutors in med school used to try and freak us out with the story though because it is pretty gross. A tip for any budding surgeons: wear a facemask if removing them because they smell really bad when they come out.

    From wikipedia:

    Fetus in fetu and fetiform teratoma are rare forms of mature teratoma that include one or more components resembling a malformed fetus. Both forms may contain or appear to contain complete organ systems, even major body parts such as torso or limbs. Fetus in fetu differs from fetiform teratoma in having an apparent spine and bilateral symmetry.

  11. I won’t bother learning these words; I’ll just wait for the “Getting a fetus in fetu removed” lesson to come out.

  12. After the chinesepod “relativity” lesson nothing would surprise me.

  13. Henning Says: June 7, 2008 at 7:57 pm

    This could indeded be the backdrop for a really creepy lesson…

    I would definately support the 畸胎瘤-lesson maxiewawa proposed. Cpod has gotten really, really practical recently.

  14. Alexis,

    Teratoma does sound more likely, but based on what my friend told me, it’s a case of fetus in fetu. I guess she or her doctor could be wrong, though…

  15. Henning Says: June 7, 2008 at 10:36 pm

    I tried to find translations for “Teratoma” (the very existance of which I learned here). Wherever I looked it was translated as…
    e.g. here:

    However, for “fetus in fetu” the term
    is given.

  16. Henning,

    Ah, the final translation check I was too lazy to do. (It’s Saturday!) Thanks.

    I will update the entry.

  17. This isn’t directly related to the subject but it got me thinking… Does anyone know how the one-child law is applied when a woman is pregnant with twins?

  18. Tora,

    Despite what the Onion would have you believe, twin births are OK. Any kind of medication which tends to increase chances of twin births are strictly illegal, though.

  19. Sorry in my post above I meant to say fetus in fetu and so on certainly do occur. Putting “not” in tends to change the meaning of a sentence somewhat.

    John: it does add up. Fetus in fetu, as the wikipedia article says, is a subset of teratomata. Well, probably anyway. The reference cited:

    Gonzalez-Crussi, F. (1982) Extragonadal Teratomas. Atlas of Tumor Pathology, Second Series, Fascicle 18. Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, Washington D.C

    apparently goes into this further.
    I don’t know the Mandarin for fetus in fetu. The closest I can find in my medical dictionaries is 胚性畸胎瘤 or embryonic teratoma, but that is a reference to undifferentiated embryonic cells, not an entire embryo as such. Here 性 refers I think to “-ness” , that is fetal-ness.

  20. Some seemingly useless vocab does come in handy. I learned the word for midget (侏儒 – zhu1 ru2) because some friends in Shenzhen had this weird midget cabaret at a nighclub near their house, and like eight years later I saw this “little person,” come up and steal food from a little girl in the Raffles City food court when her father left the table to get something. I finally got to use the word with the security guard.

    Another tidbit: I have heard my local friends use “guai4 tai1” ( 怪胎) for a mutated fetus or monster baby. Hopefully none of us will ever have to use that word for anything but talking about monster movies.

  21. The closest I can find in my medical dictionaries is 胚性畸胎瘤 or embryonic teratoma, but that is a reference to undifferentiated embryonic cells, not an entire embryo as such. Here 性 refers I think to “-ness” , that is fetal-ness

  22. 怪胎 is also used cruelly to describe pretty much anybody with physical abnormalities, similar to calling somebody a freak.

  23. I had heard of this phenom. before coming to China, but since coming here I’ve met a couple folks (and now your friend – though “met” isn’t the right word) that have had this … something in the water?

  24. haha Lee’s link! straight outta henan!

    Somebody should remix the tags from the read more section and make it sound like a Chili’s commecial. . . I want my baby back baby back baby back. . . chili’s baby back penis. . .

  25. […] words to your flashcards. You know the ones I mean… the “maybe I’ll use this someday” variety. These add up, and they will choke your vocabulary review sessions. Stick to […]

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