Etymology of Abdominal Wall and Inguinal Terms

With particular thanks to Jack Lyons, MD

Aponeurosis - In present day parlance this word for the broad tendon of a flat muscle has nothing to do with nerves as its -neurosis portion might suggest. But the ancient Greeks who coined the word were unable to distinguish between nerves and tendons, both of which were called neuros. Hence the word is a combination of apo-, a prefix indicating away or derivation from; and neurosis meaning a tendon.

Crus - is Latin for leg. Crura is the plural. Thus, the medial and lateral crura of the subcutaneous inguinal ring are simply its two legs. Etymologically it is distinct from words such as cruciform, which are derived from the Latin crux, meaning cross. From the latter root we get crucial and crucifixion.

Pampiniform - The pampiniform plexuscoils along the spermatic cord form resembling the tendrils of an unpruned vine. The Latin word pampinus means just that, a tendril.

Hypochondrium - So, why should this region of the upper abdomen which lies hidden beneath the lower costal cartilages give rise to the adjective hypochondriac (chondros = Greek for cartilage), to one who suffers from an illness without knownorganic basis? Here’s why: On the left, the spleen resides there. To the ancients, this organ was thought to be the seat of melancholy and the source of emotions. And our present understanding of hypochondriasis is that of an emotional rather than an organic condition. In some regions of the country, you will still occasionally hear an old timer use the adjective spleeny to describe someone who does not tolerate pain well. “I’m not one to be spleeny, doc, but it hurts something wicked”. This usage has obviously drifted a bit away from the original meaning.

Gubernaculum - is the Latin word for rudder or helm of a boat. Hence it has the sense of a guide or governor. Notice the relationship to our word gubernatorial as in an election for the governor.

Dartos - This is NOT an eponymic possessive adjective like Scarpa’s or Colles’ and does not need to be capitalized. Rather, it is a Greek derivative that means “that which is flayed or skinned”, perhaps from its appearance.

Umbilicus - from the Latin umbo = a knob or projection. Originally, an umbo was the ornamental knob at the center of a warrior’s shield. Umbilicus is a diminutive of that indicating a small projection. Later on, you will learn that the slight projection at the center of the eardrum is also called the umbo.

Navel - Speakers of Old English used the word nafela for the belly-button. This descended from the Greek omphalos for belly-button, through the Anglo-Saxon word nafe, meaning the center of a wheel where the axle was inserted, to nafela. Our word navel for the hub or center of the body comes from that. Incidentally, nave is still a perfectly good word used to indicate the hub of a wheel. This nave is not related to the nave found in a church. The latter is derived from the Latin word for a ship and is found also in navy and navigation

Falciform - Falx is Latin for sickle, a curve-bladed hand instrument used to cut grasses and grains. Falciform simply means in the shape of, or resembling, a sickle. You might as well remember this relationship as it will crop up several times as you wend your way through human anatomy.

Cremaster - from a Greek word meaning suspender. Its obvious function makes no further explanation necessary.

Albuginea - This goes back to the Latin root albus meaning white. It is the same albus that appears in albumen, meaning the white of an egg, and albumin (with an i) meaning the plasma protein. Albugo is Latin for whiteness; albuginea derives from this and is used for any dense white covering, such as the tunica albuginea of the testis.

Pectineal –This is obviously derived from the Latin word pecten meaning a comb. This was also an old word for the pubis. But what is the connection? No one knows for sure. A relationship to the pubic hair is one of several that have been suggested.

Inguinal – Inguen is the Latin word for the groin. For the Romans, this word was also used for ones ”privates”.

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