Human Anatomy Terms with Interesting Origins

Adam’s Apple: The cartilaginous laryngeal prominence in males is believed to be so named because, in ancient times, it was thought to be a piece of forbidden fruit caught in Adam’s throat. The main argument is that it is simply a mistranslation from another language.

Achilles tendon: Achillies, the Greek hero of the Trojan war, was held by this part of his body when his mother, Thetis, dipped him into the river Styx to make him invulnerable. As a result of this handhold, his heel was his only weakness as it didn’t get wet during the dipping. This single weakness was eventually the source of his eventual downfall and came to mean a weak point.

Artery: The word artery comes from the Latin and Greek word “arteria,” which means “air holder.” The arteries were originally thought to carry air throughout the body.

Atlas: The topmost cervical vertebrae is named after the Greek Titan, Atlas, who held the world on his shoulders.

Bursa: The medical term “bursa” is derived from the Latin word for “purse.”

Capillary: This work derives from the Latin word “capillaris,” meaning “relating to the hair or any structure as fine as a hair.” Early anatomists thought capillaries looked hair-like.

Coccyx: “Coccyx” comes from the Greek word “kokkyx,” meaning “cuckoo.” The coccyx was thought to resemble a cuckoo’s beak.

Fibula: The fibula derives its name from the Latin word “fibulae.” In Latin, a fibulae is a brooch similar to the modern day safety pin. A fibulae fastened fabrics together, such as when wearing a tunic or toga. The bones of the lower leg resemble a safety pin with the fibula making up the “pin” part.

Hamstring: When butchers hung the thighs of pigs (hams), the meat was hung by hooks through the rope-like (or string-like) tendons of these muscles. Hence the term, “ham+string.”

Iris: The colored part of the eye is named after Iris, the goddess of the rainbow in Greek mythology. The color of the iris in people can be one or more colors.

Patella: The term “patella” means “little plate” in Latin.

Pineal gland: The pineal gland, the small melatonin and serotonin-producing gland near the center of the brain, is named for its shape being similar to a pine cone.

Sartorius: The sartorius is the longest muscle in the body. It activates the most when you sit crosslegged. As a result of the position activating it, the muscle was named “sartorius,” which is Latin for “tailor.” Tailors used to sit crosslegged when pinning hems.

Sesamoid: A sesamoid is a naturally occurring bone embedded in a tendon. The term “sesamoid” was derived in the late 17th century from the word “sesame.” Sesamoid bones are often quite small, and early anatomists thought they looked like sesame seeds within tendons. The patella is the largest example of this in the human body.

Sole: Though you may think that the sole of the foot is named after the fish, it is actually the reverse. The fish is named for its similar shape to the bottom of the human foot. The sole of the foot is aderived from the Latin word “solum,” meaning “bottom.”

Uvula: The dangly bit that hangs at the back of your throat is called the uvula, which means “little grape” in Latin. It looks a bit like a grape, don’t you think?

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