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The Secret Language of Anatomy

by Cecilia Brassett, Emily Evans, Isla Fay. Forward by Alice Roberts

listed in bodywork

[Image: The Secret Language of Anatomy]


What a great book!! There aren’t many medical textbooks that I read from beginning to end in one sitting, but this was an exception. It is probably meant to be ‘dipped into’ but it is so fascinating that anyone who ‘dips’ would surely read various other sections, and finally the whole book. As my anatomical knowledge is fairly good, I was at a distinct advantage in that I had heard most of the terms used to describe various parts of the human anatomy, but, like many of my colleagues, wasn’t too sure of the root and derivation of these terms. The thrust of the book is to describe the derivation of 125 anatomical terms that anatomists, whether they be anatomy academics or medical professionals, use on a regular basis. When I was a student chartered physiotherapist, I was always taught that anatomy was the art of description. It is a language that is universal so that colleagues can understand what you are trying to convey. I wonder, though, how many medics would know all the anatomical derivations.

The anatomical terms used by all of us have roots in the languages of ancient Europe, primarily in Greek and in Latin, but also in medieval and later forms of Arabic, French and English. They were chosen to describe a part of the body that were similar in shape or form to an object from, say agriculture, architecture or tools. This book uses 20 different genres from which anatomical terms are derived. Five of the different genres and a few examples from each are as follows:


Sulcus – the central sulcus of the cerebral hemisphere named after the furrow made in the soil after a field has been ploughed resembles

Zygoma – the zygoma in the skull named after a yoke or crossbar that hitches two animals together to draw a plough


Cochlea – the cochlea of the ear named after a spiral shell (from kokhlias meaning snail)

Arachnoid – the middle of 3 layers that surround the brain and spinal cord is derived from the cobweb like Arachne or spider’s web


Meniscus – the two menisci in the knee joint are crescent shaped and resemble a crescent shaped moon


Pterygoid – the wing shaped process of the sphenoid bone is named after the contours of a feathered wing (from pteryx meaning wing)

Coracoid – the coracoid process of the scapula resembles a raven’s beak (raven like from korax meaning crow or raven)


Philtrum – the vertical groove on the upper lip below the nasal septum is named after a love potion bottle (philtrum)

The above merely gives a flavour of the contents of this book. The illustrations used (all black and white) are simple yet effective, in typical Lotus Publishing style. There is also an extremely useful appendices that give derivations of many of the prefixes, suffixes as well as the adjectives, nouns and verbs used. It has a kudos of having a Foreword written by Professor Alice Roberts, who, as well as never being off the TV, is a renowned anatomist and archaeologist.

I would thoroughly recommend this book, available in hard back or Kindle. It will appeal not only to medical students and practitioners but also to readers interested in the history of anatomy, the structure of the human body as well as the history of our rich language

Further Information

Available from Lotus Publishing, and

John R Cross
Lotus Publishing
£12.48 / $13.56
978 1 905367 79 5

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