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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 will post a workweek daily medical or surgical term, its 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

Thomas Willis, MD
Thomas Willis
(1621-1675)

An English physician and anatomist, Willis was born on his parents' farm in Great Bedwyn, Wiltshire, where his father held the stewardship of the Manor. He was a kinsman of the Willys baronets of Fen Ditton, Cambridgeshire. He graduated M.A. from Christ Church, Oxford in 1642. In the Civil War years he was a royalist, and was dispossessed of the family farm at North Hinksey by Parliamentary forces. In the 1640's Willis was one of the royal physicians to Charles I of England. He obtained his medical degree in 1646.

Thomas Willis might well be one of the greatest physicians of the 17th century.He is one of the founders of the Royal Society of London. He is remembered by his many publications, especially "Cerebri Anatome: Cui accessit Nervorum Descriptio et Usu", where he describes the arterial anastomoses at the base of the brain. This work is also the first detailed description of the vasculature of the brain. Willis described nine cranial nerves.

He is considered as the father of Neurology as a discipline. He used the term "neurology" for the first time in 1664. He described several neurological conditions

The Arterial Circle of Willis is a famous eponymous structure found at the base of the brain. It represents an anastomotic roundabout that connects the right and left sides as well as the carotid and vertebral arterial territories that supply the brain. Named after Thomas Willis, this structure was known well before him, but it was Willis who described its function.  If you click on the image or here, you will be redirected to a detailed description of this structure.

Sources:

1. "The legendary contributions of Thomas Willis (1621-1675): the arterial circle and beyond" Rengachary SS et al J Neurosurg. 2008 Oct;109(4):765-75
2. "Thomas Willis, a pioneer in translational research in anatomy (on the 350th anniversary of Cerebri anatome)" Arraez-AybarJournal of Anatomy, 03/2015, Volume 226, Issue 3
3. " The naming of the cranial nerves: A historical review" Davis, M Clinical Anatomy, 01/2014, Volume 27, Issue 1
4. "Observations on the history of the circle of Willis". Meyer A, Hieros, R.Med Hist 6:119–130, 1962


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Vernacular

Although not a medical term per se, we use the word [vernacular] constantly on this blog to refer to terms used commonly or colloquially by non-health care professionals.

Merriam-Webster’s definitions of [vernacular] are multiple, all pointing to common usage by a group:

 of, relating to, or using the language of ordinary speech rather than formal writing
 of, or relating to the common style of a particular time, place, or group
using a language or dialect native to a region or country rather than a literary, cultured, or foreign language
of, relating to, or being a nonstandard language or dialect of a place, region, or country
of, relating to, or being the normal spoken form of a language
applied to a plant or animal in the common native speech as distinguished from the Latin nomenclature of scientific classification

This last definition is the one that applies mostly to what we mean in this blog. While we may use the anatomical term “rectus abdominis” , most people would say “six-pack” – which is wrong on two aspects:  it is vernacular, and it is not a “six pack”, if you count them, you will see that a well-developed rectus abdominis has eight bellies, four on each side, making it really an “eight pack”!

Another one would be the vernacular term "pinky" to refer to the fifth digit of the hand. Yet another one would be the use of the vernacular term “stomach” to refer to the abdomen,  that is one of my pet peeves!