Anatomy Atlases: Illustrated Encyclopedia of Human Anatomic Variation:
Part I: Muscular System: Glossary of Terms
Illustrated Encyclopedia of Human Anatomic Variation: Part I:
Glossary of Terms
Ronald A. Bergman, PhD
Adel K. Afifi, MD, MS
Ryosuke Miyauchi, MD
Peer Review Status: Internally Peer Reviewed
Hippocrates and other ancient anatomists had to develop a dictionary
in order to communicate their observations. Rufus even produced a
book, "On naming of the Parts of the Body," in the first
century. Galen, however was among the first to attempt to establish a
reasonably comprehensive nomenclature derived from the Greek. It was
very extensive and a large percentage of his terms are still in use
today. It is clear however that progress in descriptive terminology
was vital to growth of the subject. What Galen referred to as "the muscles
which rotate the head and whose extremities reach the sternum and
clavicle"is simply referred to as the sternocleidomastoid muscle
today. Anatomical nomenclature grew enormously and haphazardously
with innumerable synonyms from the second to the 16th century. Some
40,000 terms were used by anatomists with some structures having as
many as 10, or more, different names. Communication between
anatomists and other interested parties became extremely
During the 16th century several important physician/anatomists,
among them Guenther and Sylvius (Vesalius' teacher) sought resolution
of the chaotic state of the nomenclature and did this through the
published work of Vesalius. It was Sylvius that gave names to most of
the blood vessels and it is his terminology that became the basis for
the development of all future nomenclatures. Vesalius, in his Fabrica
of 1543, used a highly involved, difficult, and sophisticated Latin
idiom of a type affected by the more pretentious, mid-sixteenth
century humanists. This nomenclature failed to be adopted because the
physicians of the period were not broadly or even well educated and
they could not understand it or use it correctly. Vesalius, inspite
of his failure, was certainly was one of the most important reformers
of the nomenclature of the period.
Title page of Vesalius' book, "De humani corporis fabrica libri
published in Basel in 1543, by Joannis Oporini.
Considered by many scholars to be the most important medical book
In the 18th century, the great German anatomist, von
Sömmerring avoided using eponyms, i.e., the use of proper names.
He asked the question, "did not Fallopius (1523-1562) know the
ileocaecal valve long before Bauhin (1560-1624)?" It was, afterall,
the Italian anatomists and other anatomists working in Italy that
originally taught us anatomy. Bauhin's name was synonymous, the
eponym, for the ileocaecal valve at that time. Priority was
questioned, and the appropriateness of the eponym was challenged by
von Sömmerring. These arguments, unfortunately, continue to the
present day; anatomists tend to use anatomical terms and clinicians
continue to use eponyms.
Jakob Henle, another important German anatomist accepted and used
only one name for each structure and he rejected personal names on
the ground that they were frequently not in accord with historical
fact or justice thereby supporting von Sömmerring. In this way,
Henle made several fundamental contributions to anatomical
nomenclature. Later in the nineteenth century, Hyrtl, the Viennese
anatomist, wrote a detailed analysis of 421 terms published as a book
in 1880, "Onomatogia anatomica." The great number of synonyms however
remained a huge problem. In any large textbook of gross anatomy
published anound 1900, one could find as many as 10,000 terms. It
should be remembered that between the 17th and 19th centuries at
least 40,000 terms were expunged from the anatomical dictionary.
Still, more than half of the terms found in a early 20th century
textbook of anatomy were synonyms. Barker (1907), found 30,000 terms
in several large textbooks and 40 synonyms for the epiphysis cerebri
alone: the proper NA (Nomina Anatomica) or official term is corpus
pineale: Gr. conarium; Lat. pinus, pineal gland or body.
The German founders of the Anatomische Gesellschaft held a meeting
in Basle in 1868. Arguably the greatest assemblage of anatomists ever
convenened, produced a list of 4500 acceptable terms from the
30-50,000 available. The 4500 terms became known as the BNA (Basle
Nomina Anatomica); our basic international anatomical dictionary.
This meeting was followed by the Birmingham revision in 1933, the
Paris nomina in 1950, and continues today through an international
committee that edits and scrutinizes the nomina.
Each term in the official list of the NA is in latin, but it is
important to note that each country is at liberty to translate the
official Latin into its own vernacular for teaching purposes. The
longest anatomical term found by the present authors is in German,
and consists of 42 letters,
Bauchspeicheldrüsenzwölffingerdarmpulsader. Translated into
English (not much better), superior pancreatoduodenal artery, three
words. A number of Latin terms are never translated when writing in
English, French, German, or Italian and these include foramen magnum
and tunica albuginea as examples. Some of these terms are found in
the Glossary and in the listing of Old and Modern Terminology.
Without the latter listing, it is not always possible to make sense
of the older literature regardless of the language it is written
Final Pages of Tabulated Muscles
From Albinus, B.S. Historia Musculorum Hominis, Apud Theodorum Haak
& Henricum Mulhovium, 1734
Naris(L. naris, nostril). Pertaining to muscles associated
with the nostril. Nasalis(L. nasus, nose). Pertaining to the nose. Nuchae(F. nuque, back of the neck). Muscles associated with
the back of the neck.
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