I can't seem to figure out what "outside" has to do with "surgery".

Surely, one type of surgery is amputation (切断【せつだん】) which is about removing (外【はず】す) a body part, but there are many other (much more common) type of surgeries.

  • .... I'm not a linguist, but maybe because in any surgery you open up something so that it can be gotten to from the outside? or maybe surgeries where you remove something are more common than you think? removal of cancerous growths, failed organs, etc... – ericfromabeno Nov 25 '18 at 22:16

外科【げか】 stands in contrast to 内科【ないか】. While 内科【ないか】 has the straightforwardly corresponding term "internal medicine" in English, I do not think the term "external medicine" corresponding to 外科【げか】 has as much currency in modern English-language medical materials, where instead this is rendered as "surgery". (Separately, I do note that the term "external medicine" seems to have some use in English-language Chinese medical contexts.)

That said, broadly speaking, "internal medicine" is concerned with treating the body from the inside, via medicines, behaviors, diet, etc. Meanwhile, "surgery" is concerned with treating the body from the outside, by opening things up or otherwise entering the body from the outside (such as via endoscopic techniques). This rough categorization of medical approaches is expressed in Japanese as 内科【ないか】 and 外科【げか】.

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