Chapter I

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Although not all names for human body parts are derived from Latin or Greek (e.g., “knee,” “knuckle,” and “elbow” are Germanic; see p. 114), the names of bones often come directly or indirectly from Latin. “Humerus,” “ulna,” “pelvis,” “patella,” “tibia,” and “fibula,” for instance, are unchanged Latin words. In some cases the name arose from the supposed resemblance between the bone and some object: means “flute,” whereas means “clasp” or “buckle,” means “little dish,” and means “washing basin.”

Other bones get their names directly from Latin, but for reasons other than some physical resemblance. The sacrum, short for os sacrum (“”), may have been so called in antiquity because it was the part of an animal that was offered as a sacrifice to the gods. (There is a Greek myth explaining how humans managed to trick the gods into accepting the less desirable parts of a sacrificial victim while they retained the meat for themselves.) is a pure Latin word derived from the verb vertere, “to turn,” and refers to the mobility of the spinal column. In an interesting anticipation of Darwin, it was suggested in antiquity that animals originally had a rigid spinal column and that it evolved its present flexibility from their turning around to see if predators were pursuing them. In other cases, such as , the longest bone in the body, it is unclear why the name was chosen—some Romans speculated, with no great logic, that it was so called because it is located in the region of the body in which a man differs from a woman (femina).

Other bone names are derived from Latin, but have undergone some sort of change. The diminutive “clavicle,” from the Latin clavicula (“”) has kept the Latin base but received an anglicized suffix (for more on Latin diminutive suffixes, see Chapter IX). The same is true for “,” which comes from the Latin base meaning “to chew” and the suffix -ble, which indicates a means of doing something. Of course, some bone names undergo changes that are technically speaking not correct. “Humerus” involves a slight error in spelling and would be more correct as umerus, the original Latin word for “.” (Interestingly, the term “funny bone” may have arisen as a pun, playing on “humerus” and “humorous.”)