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How did anatomy terminology evolve?
Posted: Mar 03, 2022
Anatomical terminology to the beginner can seem quite confusing and complex and a challenge to use. It does become easy when you are familiar with it and how the terminology originated and how it was put together. Anatomical terminology is used by many disciplines and each of them might have a slightly nuanced difference in the terminology that they use. This terminology is used by the anatomists who study anatomy, zoologists who study animals and by all the different types of health professionals. The purpose of using precise anatomical terminology is to do away with ambiguity, errors and to do away with the risk of misinterpretation in communications. Anatomical terminology uses a lot of quite unique terms, suffixes, and prefixes deriving from the ancient Greek and Latin languages where the use of the terminology began over 2500 years ago. Latin was a common language at the time the study of anatomy was beginning and many of the terms used then persist today. However, it was beginning to become a problem as a number of structures in the body had multiple names and this led to increased confusion as the popularity of using Latin, especially in medicine, dropped off over time. Different countries and different disciplines started to develop their own anatomical terminology to further confuse it. To standardize the use of anatomical terminology across the world and different disciplines, Terminologia Anatomica was developed as the international standard on human anatomic terminology.
The Terminologia Anatomica was originally released in 1988 after a lengthy consultative process by two international organizations, the Federative Committee on Anatomical Terminology (FCAT) and the International Federation of Associations of Anatomists (IFAA). There was previous a standard that this superseded was called the Nomina Anatomica (which was published in its 6th edition in 1989, but it never to seemed to gain wide acceptance). Originally Terminologia Anatomica was published and could be purchased as a hard copy, but it is now available for free online from the Federative International Programme on Anatomical Terminologies (FIPAT) which is the organisation that was a successor of FCAT.
Those involved in all the different disciplines involving anatomy are strongly encouraged to use this standard terminology to avoid confusion and to enhance cross-discipline and international communications related to anatomical structures. In practice while this does appear to be happening, there is still some way to go. For example a commonly used term in podiatry and anatomy teaching is the what is known as the ‘fibular notch’, which the Terminologia Anatomica consensus recommends should be called the ‘incisura fibularis tibiae’. Even then, those who use the terms still prefer to use just the ‘Incisura Fibularis
- and leave of the ‘tibiae’. ‘Incisura Fibularis’ translates from Latin as the fibula notch. This fibula notch is a small hollow triangular-shaped area on the back and outside of the lower end of the tibia bone that forms part of the joint with the fibula. According to Terminologia Anatomica, the preferred Latin name should be incisura fibularis tibiae. Efforts are still continuing by many professional bodies to get the standards right.
Craig Payne is a University lecturer, runner, cynic, researcher, skeptic, forum admin, woo basher, clinician, rabble-rouser, blogger and a dad.