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Humanities Libertexts

9.3: §140. A Polyglot Guide to Human Anatomy

  • Page ID
    8480
  • The following lexicon should not be taken too seriously. It is a rough-and-ready attempt to match up names of human body parts and organs in English, Greek,[1] and Latin. Any serious effort to learn anatomical and medical terminology should be a task of many weeks, even months; a two-page summary can only provide a glimpse of what is required. Nevertheless, it is remarkable how few specialized roots one needs to learn, after a course of this kind, in order to manage quite well in recognizing—if not fully understanding—highly technical medical terms.

    You will see at once that some of the words below are seldom if ever used in scientific discourse; those forms are provided merely for the sake of comparison.

    A. The Head and Mouth NOUN ADJECTIVE
    E skull G cranion L > cranium
    head cephalē caput, capit- capitalis
    brain encephalos cerebrum cerebralis
    eye ophthalmos oculus ocularis
    ear ōt- aur-is auralis
    nose rhin- nasus nasalis[2]
    mouth stom(at)- os, or-is oralis
    lip cheil- labium labialis
    tooth odont- dens, dent-is dentalis
    gum gingiva gingivalis
    tongue glōssa lingua lingualis
    B. The Digestive System (the alimentary canal < L alere, “nourish”)
    E throat, gullet G (o)eso-phag-us L gula (non-medical)
    belly, maw gastēr, gastr-
    stomachos
    ventr- (dim. ventriculum)
    > stomachus
    small intestine
    (“innards”)
    enteron (< entos) intestinum (< intus)
    duodenum (“12” [fingers])
    jejunum
    (“hungry”)
    ileum
    liver hēpat- jecur (non-medical)
    pancreas pancreat- (“all flesh”)
    large intestine cōlon (orig. “limb”)
    prōctos
    c(a)ecum (“blind”) +[colon]
    rectum (“straight”) + anus

    At the risk of appearing scatological, we can deal briefly with the end product (or by-product) of the alimentary canal. The old English word shit has an etymology that links it with the Greek root σχιζ- (“split”), source of E schism, schist, and schizophrenia. Greek σκωρ, σκατ-ος (whence scatological) may be matched with Latin excrementum; the words for animal dung were κοπρος and stercus. (Some mushrooms may be described as coprophilic, and disgusting speech is known as coprolalia —“dung talk.”) E feces, now a standard technical term for excrement, is derived from a Latin word that had nothing to do with excretion: L faeces (“wine-dregs”) still meant “dregs” or “sediment” in English until 1639. Etymologically speaking, therefore, defecate means “to get the dregs out.”

    C. The Respiratory System
    E breath
    breathe
    G pneum(at)-
    pne-
    L spiritus
    respirare, respiratus
    throat pharynx, pharyng-
    voice-box larynx, laryng-
    windpipe trachea
    2 tubes bronchi bronchi-ole (mod. dim.)
    lung pneumōn- pulmo, pulmon-is
    D. The Circulatory System (cardiovascular)
    E heart G cardia L cor, cord-is
    blood h(a)em(at)- sanguis, sanguin-is
    vessel angeion (> angi-) vas (dim. vasculum)
    artery artēria
    vein phlebs, phleb-os vena
    clot thrombos
    E. The Urinary-Reproductive System (urogenital)
    E kidney G nephros L renes (plural)
    bladder cyst- vesica (dim. vesicle = cyst)
    urine ouron (> ur-) urina
    male:
    testicle orchid- testis
    (pl. testes; dim. testiculus)
    penis phallos penis (vulg. mentula, F.)
    sperm sperm(at)-
    gonos
    semen
    vas deferens
    female:
    breast mastos (M.) mamma
    egg oon ovum
    ovary oophoron ovarium
    womb hystera uterus (M.); also matrix
    vagina colpos vagina (“sheath,” “scabbard”)
    [vulg. cunnus, M.]
    month mēn- mensis, plural menses
    monthly menstruum
    (> menstru-are)

    1. The Greek transliterations use κ > c and χ > ch, so that the words may be more easily recognized. ↵
    2. From the Latin verb olfacere (“smell”) is derived the English adjective olfactory.
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