Etymology of Abdominal Visceral Terms

With particular thanks to Jack Lyons, MD

Parenchyma - A direct Greek borrowing signifying “that which is poured in” from an ancient and erroneous belief that the solid organs of the abdomen got that way by the blood being poured into them and then congealing there.

Pelvis –Nice simple etymology: Pelvis is just the Latin word for a basin or bucket, both of which the anatomic pelvis resembles – somewhat.

Acetabulum – This little word is borrowed directly from the Latin where it has the meaning of a little vinegar cup. The acet- part appears in our word acetic acid, the important ingredient of vinegar. –ulum is, as usual, a diminutive.

Perineum –The Greek word perinaion described the area we now know as perineum but beyond that the etymology of the word is not clear.

Gemellus Gemellus, - as in the names of the muscles flanking the obturator internus tendon, is a diminutive of the Latin word geminus meaning a twin. Many folks nowadays know that the zodiac sign Gemini is the plural of the same word. Less well known is that our expression “By Jiminy” is a persistence of an oath “By Gemini”.

Pudendum – The pudendum is a word meaning the human external genitalia, especially of the female. It comes from the Latin verb pudere, to be ashamed. The pudendum is that part which modesty dictates should be covered. You find the stem also in our word impudent. The obsolete meaning was without modesty. Today it is used more in the sense of cocky and lacking in concern for others.

VulvaVulva is the Latin word for a wrapper. It was also used to mean the uterus, a kind of wrapper for an embryo or fetus. Subsequently it came have its present meaning, the female external genitalia.

Vagina - The basic meaning of the Latin word vagina was a sheath – or scabbard for a sword. By association, Gladius (sword) was a common term for the penis.

Clitoris – is borrowed directly from kleitoris, a Greek word for both a door-tender and the female organ. This is thought to relate to kleis, a key, by which one gains entrance through a door.

Glans – This is the Latin word for acorn.

Prostate – This is from the Greek expression pro histanai meaning that which stands before. In this case what it stood before were the testes.

Seminal vesicle – Two interesting Latin roots appear here. Semen was the word for a seed or germ. It retains that obvious meaning today. Vesica was the word for bladder, especially the urinary bladder, and –cle is that most common diminutive. So a vesicle is a small bladder – an apt name for the structure once thought to store the seeds of future generations. We now know that this is not their function. When you attend a seminar you are at a meeting in which (hopefully) the seeds of great new thoughts may be sown.

Trigone – The Greek word for a triangle. An apt name for that part of the urinary bladder. Gonia is the Greek word for an angle. Interestingly, it came from the Indo-European root genu meaning knee, the site of the angle of the leg. Old timers may still remember a strong household soap called Octagon because of the eight angles on a bar.

Frenulum – This is a diminutive of the Latin word frenum meaning a bridle, or figuratively a restraint. The clitoris has a frenulum as does the tongue. In the latter case it is the little fold of tissue beneath the front of the tongue that tends to restrict its motion, producing a “tongue-tied” condition.

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