§140. A Polyglot Guide to Human Anatomy

The following lexicon should not be taken too seriously. It is a rough-and-ready attempt to match up names of human body parts and organs in English, Greek,[1] and Latin. Any serious effort to learn anatomical and medical terminology should be a task of many weeks, even months; a two-page summary can only provide a glimpse of what is required. Nevertheless, it is remarkable how few specialized roots one needs to learn, after a course of this kind, in order to manage quite well in recognizing—if not fully understanding—highly technical medical terms.

You will see at once that some of the words below are seldom if ever used in scientific discourse; those forms are provided merely for the sake of comparison.

A. The Head and Mouth NOUN ADJECTIVE
E skull G cranion L > cranium
head cephalē caput, capit- capitalis
brain encephalos cerebrum cerebralis
eye ophthalmos oculus ocularis
ear ōt- aur-is auralis
nose rhin- nasus nasalis[2]
mouth stom(at)- os, or-is oralis
lip cheil- labium labialis
tooth odont- dens, dent-is dentalis
gum gingiva gingivalis
tongue glōssa lingua lingualis
B. The Digestive System (the alimentary canal < L alere, “nourish”)
E throat, gullet G (o)eso-phag-us L gula (non-medical)
belly, maw gastēr, gastr-
ventr- (dim. ventriculum)
> stomachus
small intestine
enteron (< entos) intestinum (< intus)
duodenum (“12” [fingers])
liver hēpat- jecur (non-medical)
pancreas pancreat- (“all flesh”)
large intestine cōlon (orig. “limb”)
c(a)ecum (“blind”) +[colon]
rectum (“straight”) + anus

At the risk of appearing scatological, we can deal briefly with the end product (or by-product) of the alimentary canal. The old English word shit has an etymology that links it with the Greek root σχιζ- (“split”), source of E schism, schist, and schizophrenia. Greek σκωρ, σκατ-ος (whence scatological) may be matched with Latin excrementum; the words for animal dung were κοπρος and stercus. (Some mushrooms may be described as coprophilic, and disgusting speech is known as coprolalia —“dung talk.”) E feces, now a standard technical term for excrement, is derived from a Latin word that had nothing to do with excretion: L faeces (“wine-dregs”) still meant “dregs” or “sediment” in English until 1639. Etymologically speaking, therefore, defecate means “to get the dregs out.”

C. The Respiratory System
E breath
G pneum(at)-
L spiritus
respirare, respiratus
throat pharynx, pharyng-
voice-box larynx, laryng-
windpipe trachea
2 tubes bronchi bronchi-ole (mod. dim.)
lung pneumōn- pulmo, pulmon-is
D. The Circulatory System (cardiovascular)
E heart G cardia L cor, cord-is
blood h(a)em(at)- sanguis, sanguin-is
vessel angeion (> angi-) vas (dim. vasculum)
artery artēria
vein phlebs, phleb-os vena
clot thrombos
E. The Urinary-Reproductive System (urogenital)
E kidney G nephros L renes (plural)
bladder cyst- vesica (dim. vesicle = cyst)
urine ouron (> ur-) urina
testicle orchid- testis
(pl. testes; dim. testiculus)
penis phallos penis (vulg. mentula, F.)
sperm sperm(at)-
vas deferens
breast mastos (M.) mamma
egg oon ovum
ovary oophoron ovarium
womb hystera uterus (M.); also matrix
vagina colpos vagina (“sheath,” “scabbard”)
[vulg. cunnus, M.]
month mēn- mensis, plural menses
monthly menstruum
(> menstru-are)


  1. The Greek transliterations use κ > c and χ > ch, so that the words may be more easily recognized.
  2. From the Latin verb olfacere (“smell”) is derived the English adjective olfactory.


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Greek and Latin Roots: Part II - Greek Copyright © 2016 by Peter Smith (Estate) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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