Medical Terminology Daily (MTD) is a blog sponsored by Clinical Anatomy Associates, Inc. as a service to the medical community, medical students, and the medical industry. We post anatomical, medical or surgical terms, their meaning and usage, as well as biographical notes on anatomists, surgeons, and researchers through the ages. Be warned that some of the images used depict human anatomical specimens.

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A Moment in History 

Martin Naboth, title page of De Sterelitate Mulierum 

Martin Naboth
(1675 – 1721)

Not much is known about this German physician and anatomist. He was born in 1675 in Calau, a town in Southern Brandenburg, Germany. He studied medicine at the University in Leipzig, receiving his doctorate in Philosophy in 1701 and his MD in 1703. Although his interests were based in chemistry, Naboth became an avid anatomist, with interest in the anatomy of the female reproductive system.

His main publication in 1707 was “De Sterilitate Mulierum” (On Sterility in Women). In this book he refers to small pearl-like transparent structures found in the uterine cervix. Believing that he had discovered the way women store eggs, he called these “ovarium novum” (new ovaries). His discovery was accepted by many and these structures came to be known as “Ovula Nabothii “. Only later were to understand these structures as cysts created by clogging of the opening of the glands found around the uterine cervix. These mucus-producing glands are known as the [cervical glands] and also as Nabothian glands. These cysts, which are common and do not represent a sign of cervical cancer, are known today as Nabothian cysts.

Naboth had only rediscovered these cysts first described in 1681 by Guillaume des Noues (1650 – 1735), although the eponym records Naboth’s name.

Naboth died in Leipzig in 1721 leaving a large anatomical collection. We have not been able to find an image of Naboth, so we are depicting the title page of his 1707 “De Sterilitate Mulierum”. If you click on the image you can see a larger depiction.

1. “Histoire de la M?decine, depuis son origine jusqu'au dix-neuvi?me si?cle” A. J. L. Jourdan ; E. F. M. Bosquillon  1815
2. “The Origin of Medical Terms” Skinner HA 1970 Hafner Publishing Co.

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The term [scalpel] arises from the Latin word [scalpellum], meaning “a small knife”. Celsus (c.25BC - c.50BC) in De Re Medicina, uses the term [scalpellus] to refer to a surgeon’s knike.

The use of knives in Medicine is very old. 10,000 year old Mesolithic skulls have been found with craniotomies made with flint stone knives. The first one to describe surgical knives in recorded history was Hippocrates of Cos (460 BC - 370 BC).

Surgical knives were developed in a multitude of shape and forms, some of them veritable works of art. These scalpels were made by cutlery makers on demand by surgeons and had a fixed blade that had to be sharpened constantly, as surgery requires a very sharp blade.

The invention of the disposable razor by King Gillette in 1904 changed this. In 1910, Dr. John Benjamin Murphy (1857 – 1916) invented a handle that could hold a single-sided or a double-sided safety razor blade.

The design was improved by the invention of a disposable, sterilized surgical blade that could be easily installed on a reusable, sterilizable metal handle. Today sterile, disposable handle-blade combination scalpels of varying shapes and sizes are available, ensuring the surgeon the sharpest scalpel every time.

1. “The surgical knife” Ochsner J. Tex Heart Inst J. 2009; 36(5): 441–443
2. "History of the Surgical Blade" Shuja, A. Indep Rev Oct-Dec 2012;14(10-12)
3. "Masters of the Scalpel: The History of Surgery"" Riedman SR, R MacNally 1962  

Images courtesy of 

Different scalpel models (Wikipedia)
    Different scalpel models