Introductory Anatomical Terms

The terms used in biomedical English frequently come from Greek and Latin. In fact many terms used in English textbooks and journal articles are actually the original Greek or Latin words. Anatomy comes from Greek words meaning to cut apart (a tome is a knife) and refers to the study of the structure of the body. Gross anatomy is the study of the structures of the body which are large enough to be clearly seen without a microscope. Microscopic anatomy is called histology. The study of how the body works is called physiology. The study of disease is called pathology.

When we discuss human anatomy, we think of the body as being in a particular posture called the anatomical position. The anatomical position refers to the body standing upright with the arms at the side and the thumbs on the outside. With the body in this position, we can then refer particular directions and views when discussing anatomy. In the anatomical position, anterior is in the direction of the front of the body. This can also be called ventral. Posterior (also called dorsal) refers to the direction of the back. Superior means above or higher, and is similar in meaning to cephalad which refers to the direction of the head. The heart is superior to the stomach. Inferior means below or lower, and is similar in meaning to caudad which refers to the direction of the tail (do humans have tails!). The stomach is inferior to the heart.

Medial means towards the centre line of the body, while lateral means towards the sides (either left or right). In anatomical position, the thumbs are always lateral. Superficial means towards or on the surface of the body. External can also have the same meaning. The skin is a superficial tissue. Deep obviously means within the body or towards the body`s core. Internal can be used in the same sense. The heart would be considered an internal or deep organ, as are the other viscera. Proximal means close to, and is usually used in the sense of close to the trunk. Distal means far away, and is often used in the sense of far from the centre of the body. Hence the fingers and toes are considered distal, whereas the hips and shoulders are relatively proximal. 

To visualize the positions of the internal organs, we have to imagine cutting the body in certain planes. The sagittal plane cuts the body into left and right portions. A mid-sagittal plane cuts the body into equal left and right halves. A coronal plane, also called a frontal plane, cuts the body into front and back portions. A horizontal plane, also called a transverse plane, cuts the body into top and bottom portions.

In gross anatomy, we study organs and organs systems. In histology, we study cells and tissues


English - French Glossary

anterior: antérieur ; anatomy: anatomie ; cell: cellule ; distal: distal ; histology: histologie ; inferior: inférieur ; lateral: latéral ; medial: medial ; organ: organe ; pathology: pathologie ; physiology: physiologie ; posterior: postérieur ; proximal: proximal ; sagittal: sagittal ; superficial: superficiel ; superior:  supérieur ; tissue: tissu ; viscera: viscères

English - Japanese Glossary

anterior 前の (mae no); anatomy: 解剖学 (kaibougaku); caudad:尾側 (bisoku); cell: 細胞 (saibou); cephalad: 頭側 (tousoku); coronal (frontal): 前額面(zengakumen); deep (internal):内側の (naisokuno); distal: 遠位の (enino); histology: 組織学 (soshikigaku); horizontal (transverse): 水平面(suiheimen); inferior: 下位の (kaino); lateral:側面(sokumen); medial :中央面(chuuoumen); organ: 器官 (kikan); pathology: 病理学 (byourigaku); physiology: 生理学 (seirigaku); posterior: 後の (ushirono); proximal:近位の (kinino); sagittal: 正中矢状面(seichuushijoumen); superficial: (external) 外側の (gaisoku); superior: 上位の (jouino); tissue: 組織 (soshiki); viscera:内臓 (naizou)