Etymology of Abdominal Visceral Terms
With particular thanks to Jack Lyons, MD
Suffixes - There are a many suffixes that can be of help in understanding anatomic terminology if you know their meaning. Here are a couple of common ones:
- -ula, -cula, -ulum, -culum, -cle – These are all related diminutives signifying small or little. Thus a pedicle is a small pes (L. foot) supporting some structure and the capitulum of the humerus is the small rounded head (caput- = head) on the distal humerus.
- -oid – This occurs very frequently and means like or resembling. The deltoid resembles the triangular capital Greek letter delta; the cuboid bone is cube-like.
Clavicle - Clavicula is Latin for tendril. The name of the bone was apparently reminiscent of a tendril because of its twining course in connecting the scapula to the sternum.
An incorrect etymology that leads one astray is known as a false friend. Example: Clavis is Latin. for key. Combination of its root with the diminutive –cle would suggest that the clavicle is a small key, but most believe this explanation to be incorrect. Incidentally the clavis = key derivation appears correctly in the word clavichord. This was an early piano-like instrument that was played by striking its” keys” (rather than the strings themselves) to produce musical “chords”.
Brachial – from the Latin word brachium meaning arm.To brachiate is to travel by swinging by the arms from tree to tree in the style of Tarzan and some other primates.
Acromium – This highest point of the shoulder derives it name from the Greek word akros, the topmost or highest. This appears in other words such as Akron, OH. where a high hill affords the site for the annual soapbox derby, and in acrophobia, fear of heights.
Coracoid - The process on the scapula bearing this name gets it from its hooked shape. Corax is Greek for raven or crow. If you have read the above section on suffixes, by now you know the significance of –oid. The crow connection is that the anatomical process is thought to resemble the hooked beak of a crow.
Tubercle – Tuber is the Latin word for a lump or swelling. The diminutive suffix –cle tells us that a tubercle is, therefore, a small lump or swelling. Underground plant growths such as the potato and truffle are properly known as tubers.
Humerus - This is no laughing matter! Actually, the word is a derivative of the Greek word for shoulder (omos). Somewhere along the way, it picked up the initial “h”. In the olden days, humerus did mean shoulder. It gradually came to be restricted to the bone alone.
Scapula – This word for the shoulder blade comes from the Latin. The Romans evidently derived it from the Greek verb skaptein meaning to dig because of its flat shape suggestive of a trowel or shovel.
CephalicVein – Cephalic, in the case of this vein, is said to be unrelated to cephalic as pertaining to the head. Rather, it derives from the Arabic word al-kifal meaning “outer”, its position on the arm. In transition from the Arabic it mistakenly became “cephalic”.
Basilic Vein – In this case, basilic is derived, not from the Greek and Roman words related to royalty but from the Arabic al-basilik mean “inner” due to its location.
Labrum – is Latin for lip. Surely is imitative of the sound made by lapping fluid with the mouth. Labium is another Latin word for lip. Interestingly, labrum usually indicates a single lip (as in glenoid labrum), while labia (the plural of labium) is used when two lips are involved (labia majora).