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Learning Terminology

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Learning A&P Terminology

A very brief lesson in the language of A&P


  • Latin, the language of the ancient Roman Empire, became the primary language of scholars in the west until the 20th century, because everyone who could read learned to read Latin before their own language
  • Most terminology in science, but especially in human biology, is therefore Latin in origin and usage
  • Latin borrows much from the ancient Greek language, and therefore so does scientific terminology
    • When borrowing word parts from Greek and other languages, they are usually converted to a Latin form

lion trackTIPalso visit the Lion Den New Terms page

Word parts slide

  • root – main part of the word
  • prefix – word part added to the front of a root
  • suffix – word part added to the end of a root
  • Example
    • postsynaptic (root is “-synapt-” prefix is “post-” suffix is “-ic”)

Eponyms slide

  • Eponyms are terms that use a person’s name (usually whomever first identified it) or a place (usually the location of its discovery)
    • Useful to learn history, but not as useful as a descriptive term for day-to-day use
    • Many eponyms are now being replaced with Latin-based descriptive terms
    • Some contemporary scientists balk at using eponyms, which may reflect systemic inequity in attributing credit for discovery (see NOMEN: The Place of Eponyms in the Anatomy Classroom)
  • If you want to know more about a person in an eponym click here
  • When eponyms are used, it is preferable to avoid the possessive form
    • For example, Henle loop is better than Henle’s loop or loop of Henle
    • For medical conditions, the AMA (American Medical Association) style does not use the possessive form (‘s)
      • Parkinson disease is proper whereas Parkinson’s disease is improper (in the AMA style)
      • The AMA style is used in this course (and in our textbook)
  • Download a comprehensive list of anatomical eponyms with the equivalent descriptive term click here

lion trackSuggested reading: Read the first few pages of the Quick Guide to the Language of Science and Medicine, which the pamphlet is inserted in each copy of the Patton Anatomy and Physiology textbook (or the equivalent content in the textbook you are using).

This video summarizes some of the key principles needed in understanding scientific terminology

International Lists

For anatomy, there are international lists of anatomical terms

  • The FIPAT constructs and manages the lists
    • FIPAT = Federative Programme for Anatomical Terminology
      • Formerly known as FICAT (Federative International Committee on Anatomical Terminology)
    • FIPAT is a project of IFAA (International Federation of Associations of Anatomy)
  • The published lists are the global, official terms
    • Each term appears in the list with three descriptors
      • Number (sort of like a library code)
      • Latin name
      • English name (which is often based on Latin)

For gross anatomy (visible structures) the official list is

Terminologia Anatomica: International Anatomical Terminology—or simply “TA” or “Ta”

For microscopic anatomy (cytology and histology) the official list is

Terminologia Histologica: International Terms for Human Cytology and Histology —or simply “TH” or “Th”

The above international lists also list common eponyms along with the “official” descriptive term

We are now in a transitional phase

  • Because the lists are relatively new, not everyone has been taught under this more modern system (that is, a lot of folks still use the old terminology)
  • It will take a while before the international terminology is used widely
  • So for now, we should be familiar with both old and new
    • Good news—the lists often use the old, established terminology, so there really isn’t a huge difference

Don’t forget that specialized groups and subgroups often invent their own terminology that is not universal (they always have and always will)

Here’s a video summarizing this concept

Last updated: May 21, 2022 at 13:57 pm