The linguistic roots of Modern English anatomical terminology

Authors

  • Tom D. Turmezei

    Corresponding author
    1. Bone Research Group, Department of Medicine, Addenbrooke's Hospital, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, United Kingdom
    • Bone Research Group, Department of Medicine, Addenbrooke's Hospital, University of Cambridge, Box 157, Level 5, Hills Road, Cambridge CB2 0QQ, UK
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Abstract

Previous research focusing on Classical Latin and Greek roots has shown that understanding the etymology of English anatomical terms may be beneficial for students of human anatomy. However, not all anatomical terms are derived from Classical origins. This study aims to explore the linguistic roots of the Modern English terminology used in human gross anatomy. By reference to the Oxford English Dictionary, etymologies were determined for a lexicon of 798 Modern English gross anatomical terms from the 40th edition of Gray's Anatomy. Earliest traceable language of origin was determined for all 798 terms; language of acquisition was determined for 747 terms. Earliest traceable languages of origin were: Classical Latin (62%), Classical Greek (24%), Old English (7%), Post-Classical Latin (3%), and other (4%). Languages of acquisition were: Classical Latin (42%), Post-Classical Latin (29%), Old English (8%), Modern French (6%), Classical Greek (5%), Middle English (3%), and other (7%). While the roots of Modern English anatomical terminology mostly lie in Classical languages (accounting for the origin of 86% of terms), the anatomical lexicon of Modern English is actually much more diverse. Interesting and perhaps less familiar examples from these languages and the methods by which such terms have been created and absorbed are discussed. The author suggests that awareness of anatomical etymologies may enhance the enjoyment and understanding of human anatomy for students and teachers alike. Clin. Anat. 25:1015–1022, 2012. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

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