The historical Latin and etymology of selected anatomical terms of the larynx

Daniel D. Lydiatt, Gregory S. Bucher

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


The etymological evolution of the anatomical terms larynx, cricoid, glottis, epiglottis, and thyroid (cartilage) dates to antiquity. Human dissection replaced animal in the 16th and 17th centuries and terms evolved. This evolution was recorded in the literature largely in Latin. We translated key studies of laryngeal anatomy from the 16th century to better understand this evolution. We present the Latin with our translations, and historical commentary as essential to this understanding. Vesalius favored the Latin scutiform (shield) for the thyroid cartilage, but recognized peltalis (). The Basle Nomina Anatomica (BNA) chose the Greek thyroid (utqeoeid~h) for modern convention. Vesalius used the name "innominate" for the cricoid cartilage, but described its resemblance to a ring, drawn in the margin of the Fabrica. Krikoid, the Greek for ring shaped, was adopted by the BNA. Although the term arytenoid was used for centuries, Vesalius argued the Greek name referred to the spout of a cup or ladle. He recognized the human arytenoids as two separate cartilages as opposed to single in certain animals. The glottis was defined by Vesalius as the vocal fold or rima glottidis of today, and he advanced its function by understanding the paired, mobile arytenoid cartilages. He defined the function of the epiglottis and first described the pre-epiglottic space. Vesalius' student at Padua, Italy, Columbo contributed to anatomical knowledge, but animosity between them clouded the record. Harvey, working 75 years later in England, offers an evolutionary window from Vesalius. Harvey's laryngeal studies preceded by a decade his groundbreaking studies on the circulation of blood.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)131-144
Number of pages14
JournalClinical Anatomy
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2010


  • Anatomical etymology
  • Laryngeal anatomy
  • Vesalius

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anatomy
  • Histology


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