Etymology of Chest Wall Terms

With particular thanks to Jack Lyons, MD

Embalm – A pretty cool word even if not hard-core anatomy. Balm is derived from a Greek word meaning “lord of oils” with the idea that a balm was supreme because it possessed soothing or healing properties. In biblical times, much balm came from a small tree growing in a mountainous area of present day Jordan. This balm is probably closely related to, or identical with, the gum resin myrrh. Embalming, as practiced by the ancient Egyptians, probably involved the infusion of this substance to preserve the body. Although they did not know the chemistry, benzoic acid was the active ingredient. This chemical is still used today as a preservative.

Sternum – is a Latin word picked up from the Greek meaning chest. The etymology of the sternal parts is more interesting than this word. See below.

Manubrium – is the most superior part of the sternum. The stems of the word are the Latin manu-, derived from manus for hand and a verb to have habere. Manubrium therefore means to have or to be a handle.

Gladiolus – is the long central part of the sternum. In Latin, a gladius is a sword and –olus is a diminutive. Thus the gladiolus is a little sword. And, incidentally, a gladiator is one who fights with a sword.

Xiphoid – means resembling a sword. The word for sword in this case comes from the Greek xiphos = sword + eidos = like or resembling.

Fascia – In Latin, the root meaning was a flat band or bandage. In modern anatomical usage this has come to include broad sheets of connective tissue. We know it in construction as fascia board and in British English as the word for the dashboard of an automobile. Do not confuse the origin of fascia with that of fascism and fascist They do not have the same origin. You may want to also check the word fascicle below.

Fascicle – The origin of this word has is entirely different from that of fascia. A fascicle is a small bundle or cluster, usually of muscle or nerve fibers. The word is a diminutive of the originally Latin word fasces meaning the bundle of rods bound about an ax that was a symbol of Roman authority. The suffix -cle (meaning small) converts the bundle into a small bundle.

Areola – Is a combination of the Latin word area meaning a space and a diminutive –ola. It means a small space usually set apart by a different color or texture. You will also become familiar with areolar tissue, a connective tissue in which the fibers are separated by little spaces.

Lactiferous - Lacti- is a Latin combining form for milk, while -ferous is from the verb to carry or bear. The lactiferous ducts, therefore, are those that carry the milk. We find the -fer suffix in our English word transfer - to carry something from one place to another.

Platysma – Platy- is a Greek combining form meaning flat. Platysma is Greek for a plate. You have likely heard of the odd egg-laying Australian mammal named the duck-billed platypus because of its flat feet.

Parietal – This comes from the Latin word paries meaning a wall. Its plural is parietes. Parietal pleura, for example is that pleura associated with the wall of a space as opposed to that covering an organ occupying the space. The stem survives in English in such phrases as collegiate “parietal rules”. These refer (? still meaningful today) to regulations governing the visiting of opposite sex members in college dorms.

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