Etymology of Abdominal Visceral Terms

With particular thanks to Jack Lyons, MD

Saphenous – The vein bearing this name is the longest in the body. It may come from the Greek saphenes meaning obviously visible (which it is when varicose) or it may come from the Arabic al-safin meaning hidden (which it may be, lying deep in the subcutaneous tissue). No one knows for sure.

TrochanterTrokhos is the Greek word for a wheel a wheel. The spherical femoral head came to be known as trokhanter. Sometime later the meaning slid down to include the neck and became the word to describe the part that we nowadays know as the trochanter.

CondyleKondylos is the Greek word for a knuckle or knob. In time it came to be used for the knuckle-like articular surface at the end  of a bone.

Sural – The Latin word sura means calf of the leg.

Fibula Fibula is the Latin word for a clasp and especially the needle-like clasping part. Evidently, the smaller of the two leg bones was thought to resemble that object. Incidentally, the leg muscles that now bear the name fibularis were previously known as Peroneus longus and brevis. Peroneus is the Greek word for the same part of a clasp.

Tibia – This is the Latin word for both a kind of flute and for the shinbone. In the olden days, primitive wind instruments were made from wood, reeds, animal shin bones, and the like. No one knows which meaning came first.

Patella – A pan or dish in Latin is a patella.  The bone doesn’t really seem to resemble its namesake very well.

Linea asperaAspera is a Latin adjective meaning rough or uneven – an apt name this site of muscle attachments onto the femur.

Sartorius – Everyone should know that the name of this beautiful muscle is derived from the Latin word sartor meaning tailor.  The actions of this muscle position one into the traditional position of a tailor – thigh flexed, abducted and laterally rotated, leg flexed at the  knee joint.

Popliteus – This comes down from the Latin word poples meaning the hollow of the knee – which is about what the popliteal fossa is.

Gastrocnemius – This comes from the Greek words gaster = a belly and kneme = leg. This muscle does form the large belly of the leg.

SoleusSoleus is the Latin word for a flat sort of sandal. This is the flatter and deeper of the two muscles comprising the triceps cruri. The flat fish called sole and the word for the bottom of one’s shoes also derive their names from this Latin word.

Sustentaculum  - From its spelling one could guess that this word has to do with sustaining or supporting and indeed the sustentaculum tali is a small (-ulum being a diminutive) part of the calcaneus that supports an articulation with the talus. The Latin verb that gives origin to this is sustinere, to hold up. Sustain and sustenance are English words with the same origin.

Talus  - This comes  down from the Latin word taxilla meaning a die such as one shoots in a craps game. Talus was another word for the same item. Roman soldiers made their dice from a large bone in the ankle of a horse.  We know this bone as the talus.

Calcaneus – This word derives its name from the Latin word calx = chalk or limestone, perhaps from a fancied resemblance to that substance. The bone is also known as the os calcis or chalk bone. Calcium, a key element in limestone, is another word with the same  etymology.

Achilles tendon -  According to popular Greek mythology, while Achilles was still an infant, his mother held him by the calcaneal tendons and dipped him into the river Styx. This conveyed immortality upon all his parts except for that held by his mother’s hand which had not been immersed in the river’s waters. Achilles became a famous warrior hero of the Iliad but he was ultimately killed by Paris who wounded him in his unprotected heel.

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