Every Organ Tells a Story 5: A History of Anatomical Terms
Art and Anatomy
The link between art and science in the study of anatomy is a curious one. The anatomist as an artist had limited skills in rendering what they saw. In earlier times they were further limited by what they didn’t see. This was because the age old curiosity to study the inner workings of the human body has been restricted by the moral, ethical and legal dilemma of cadaveric dissection. Hippocrates, despite postulating several theories on human physiology, never really dissected a cadaver and hence didn’t know much about the anatomy and physiology. Dissection was forbidden by Greek law and religious beliefs.
Several Roman and Greek physicians who followed learned bits of anatomy while treating injuries and illnesses, but never really got to grips with the complete picture.
Galen, as we read in the previous chapter, studied Barbary apes and macaques and assumed some similarity between their and human anatomy. Galen’s work was translated to Arabic and the Muslim physicians, while did not directly prohibit the practice, were still limited by religious conflicts.
Vesalius and Da Vinci
It was only in medieval Europe, the true collaboration between the anatomist and artist began. Andreas Vesalius had a team of artists capturing his public dissections. Unlike before, where the anatomist maintained a distance and the lowly barber surgeons performed the deed under the instructions; Vesalius took to the task himself and lectured on anatomy. The artists of this era combined the stark realism of the anatomical features and flavoured them with their own take on moral, philosophical, classical theological, erotic and humorous themes. This led to a flourishing of artistic plates that were originally woodcut and were further enhanced by the arrival of the printing press.
Leonardo Da Vinci, who was a persistent polymath, enhanced his art through close study of anatomy by visiting medical schools and dissections. The results as we can see are stunning three dimensional depictions of human body.
Throughout the 16thand 17th centuries the style of anatomical illustrations were whimsical but soon the anatomists took on a serious tone, thinking that the art detracted from the science. Later illustrations took on a cold, clinical and scientific tone and left behind artistic whimsy, reaching more for technical accuracy.
Medical Illustration through the timesClick thumbnail to view full-size
Let's continue our fantastic voyage...
If you have followed our journey into anatomical terminology, the imagery and the tales of their origins, I am certain you aren’t of a nervous disposition. Talking about nerves, that is our next stop of etymological discovery.
The word nerve has its origin in the ancient Sanskrit word ‘nauree’. This actually meant a fibrous thread or a string. Understandably the Greek physicians, who borrowed this word from Sanskrit, applied it to any part of the body that looked like a fibrous thread. Strangely enough in Hippocratic medicine this included all nerves, sinews, tendons and ligaments as he didn’t have ways of discriminating between these structures.
As early as in the 4th century BC Aristotle began to restrict the use of the term in its current sense. He used ‘neuron’ to indicate nerves. Physicians in this era were able to distinguish these from those other structures.
It is thought that latter day physician Galen, also arrived at neuron from Latin neuein which is the verb for ‘to nod’. He said that the’ nerves are those structures that made the limbs nod’. As he would have been aware of the Greek term, it is uncertain whether he was being overtly creative or merely having a laugh ( or both!)
Subsequently the term ‘neuron’ is now restricted to the ‘nerve cell’ rather than the whole nerve. This was coined by Wilhelm Waldeyer, a German anatomist, in 1891. He was the first to describe the nerve as being built of individual cells that he called ‘neuron’ rather than a web of strings as was originally thought.
The Tarsal bones of the foot articulate between the lower leg bones and the metatarsal bones. The latter are attached to individual toes, whereas the tarsal bones are not. They are involved in a complex articulation that allows the foot movements such as inversion and eversion.
As there is no logic to their structure, remembering the names and the order of the Tarsal bones and their equivalent in the wrist the carpal bones is every anatomy student's nightmare!
The nomenclature although seemingly random, does follow a sense of logic attributed to their shape and size. The navicular bone especially, is given its name due to its resemblance to a little boat ( Latin: navicule ) or a skiff.
The order of the tarsal bones are Talus, Calcaneum, Navicular, Medial Cuneiform, Intermediate Cuneiform, Lateral Cuneiform and Cuboid in that order.
The popular mnemonic device to remember them is :
'Tiger Cubs Need MILCC'
It gets saucier for the carpal bones of the wrist : the Scaphoid, Lunate, Triquetrum, Pisiform, Trapezium, Trapezoid, Capitate and Hamate.
' Some Lovers Try Positions They Can't Handle'.
We sometimes changed ' Some Lovers' to 'Senior Lecturers' , especially if they shuffled into the lecture hall looking tired and bent.
The evolutionary biology of these bones shows how we evolved as a biped with the bones changing to cope with the stresses of walking on two legs as well as the articulation necessary for the wrist and hand to perform skilled movements. Fascinating stuff! ( I need to get out more)
Contrary to popular belief, the menopause is not an indicator that fertilisation is not possible. Females in perimenopausal stage are still capable of producing an ova and while it is difficult to conceive it is certainly not impossible...
The name 'Ovary' comes from the Latin 'ovum' for an egg. Ovary therefore indicates the organ containing the eggs. The paired ovaries in females are analogous to the male 'Testes'. They act as reproductive organs and as organs that produce relevant hormones in the sexes ( Oestrogen in females and Testosterone in males).
The ovaries act as Egg 'banks' and the human ovaries contain far lesser number of possible eggs that can be produced compared to other vertebrates. The human female ovary may recruit several follicles from its reserve( there may be around 300,000 to 2.5 million of them in total) to produce an egg towards fertilisation. However, as soon as one is released from a follicle, the other recruited follicles wither away, never to be replenished. This way the total reserve diminishes with advancing age, reaching a finite stage where reproduction may become very difficult. However, contrary to popular belief, the menopause is not an indicator that fertilisation is not possible.
Females in peri-menopausal stage are still capable of producing an ova and while it is difficult to conceive it is certainly not impossible. Women are advised always to think carefully about contraception around the menopausal age range of 45-50. ( could be earlier or later also).
Suffixes -ary and -arium
The -ary ( -arium) suffix in the word ovary indicates a place or a space for collection of similar items. For example a Library is a collection of Libre or books, an Aviary is where birds are kept confined. There are many -ary words - and many with similar concepts.
See if you can guess what these mean...
(Not all words ending in -ary carry the same meaning of a collection - so beware of the tricky ones)
What -ary QUIZ?view quiz statistics
Orbit is the name for the eye-socket. This bony grove allows the eye to rotate freely, anchored by the muscles that help in the movements. It is not difficult to work out that the rotatory movements of the eyeball would have inspired the anatomists to use the term Orbit.
The original word 'Orbit' comes from Latin 'Orbita' for a wheel track. This in turn comes from 'Orbis' for a rotating wheel or a Disc.
There is another organ - a muscle- not far from the eyes that shares the same theme. The muscle Orbicularis Oris is one that surrounds the mouth in our face. As it forms a circle around the mouth- it is called the 'Orbicularis'.
Just remember that apart from opening and closing the mouth and helping us enunciate several words, the Orbicularis Oris muscle also is the 'Kissing Muscle' without whose function we wont be able kiss!
The soothsayers were also called a Haruspex and the Haruspical practice of reading entrails is said to come from ancient Etruscan times.
The human body has an enormous capacity to store food in the form of fat. Anything we eat, and don't burn gets put away for later. This fat can be stored under the skin as adipose tissue and also inside our tummies. There are two 'aprons' that drape our internal abdominal organs, the large Greater Omentum and the smaller Lesser Omentum. This fatty membrane is normally thin and almost translucent but with advancing age and increasing amount of fat storage can become a very bulky, thick covering that gives men their beer belly.
The Omentum drapes our intestines and carries vital blood vessels and lymphatic drainage, so it can't simply be removed. It is what is seen attached to the entrails of animals as a fatty membrane.
There are various opinions as to where the original name Omentum came from. Some opine that it comes from the Latin for Operimentum which was the name for a large cloth used as bed covering in ancient Roman times. this could be because of how the Greater Omentum drapes over our intestines, much like a bed covering.
However, there is another more curious origin. In ancient Roman times, the Soothsayers were popular figures, who studied the entrails of the animals offered as sacrifice in order to read the Omens. The soothsayers were also called a Haruspex and the Haruspical practice of reading entrails is said to come from ancient Etruscan times.
Perhaps of this practice of reading the 'Omen' from the entrails, the name Omentum may have originated.
© 2012 Mohan Kumar