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

Dr. Thomas Dent Mütter
Dr. Thomas Dent Mütter (1811-1859)

Dr. Thomas Dent Mütter


Thomas Dent Mutter was born on March 9, 1811, in Richmond, VA. His mother died in 1813, and his father died of tuberculosis in 1817. Thomas was orphaned when he was barely 8 years old. His father left him a somewhat meager inheritance and in his early life had to do with less that others with his objectives in life. He was well educated under the tutelage of Robert Carter, his guardian, and in 1824 he started his studies at the Hampden Sidney College of Virginia. He continued with a medical apprenticeship with a Dr. Simms in VA. He was well respected and even at his early age he would do home visits for his medical benefactor with great results. He started medical studies at the University of Pennsylvania, where he earned his MD in 1831. The new young doctor, Thomas Dent Mutter, MD was only 20 years of age.

At the time, Europe was the place to go to if you wanted advanced medical studies. Dr. Mutter had no money, so he applied as a ship surgeon to be able to cross the Atlantic. Once in Europe, he spent time in Paris, where he studied under the tutelage of Dr. Guillaume Dupuytren. He later studied for a short time in England where he met Dr. Robert Liston. Following Dupuytren's teachings, Mutter was fascinated by plastic surgery.

A chance encounter with what was to become his first well-known acquisition of a medical curiosity, Mutter started thinking on how to help those people that were known at that time as “monsters”, patients who the general public did not see, because they did not appear in public. The curiosity in question was a wax reproduction of the face of a French woman who had a “horn” arising from her forehead. This piece is on exhibit at the Mütter Museum.

Back in the United States in 1832, Thomas Dent Mutter changed his last name to give it a more “European” sound and added an “umlaut”, so now he was Thomas D. Mütter, MD. It may also be that he wanted to pay homage to his Scottish-German heritage, who knows? He opened his medical office in Philadelphia and although it took time, eventually he had a thriving practice. One of his specialties was the work on “deformities” so common at the time because of facial scars born out of the use of open fires in houses, and deformities caused by burns and loss of tissue due to chemicals used in local industry. Dr. Mütter is the pioneer of what we call today “Reconstructive Surgery”.

In 1835 he was asked to join the Medical Institute of Philadelphia as an assistant professor of Surgery. He was an instant success. Dr. Mütter was adored by his students because, he would question the students and guide them to discovery instead of just lecturing and leaving. In his Discourse eulogy of Dr. Mütter by Joseph Pancoast he writes:” The power of attracting students near him by his mingled gentleness, energy, and enthusiasm; of fixing their attention by the lucid and methodical arrangements of his Subject, by his clear demonstrations, and sprightly oral elucidations, came so readily to him, and was so early displayed) as to seem almost intuitive.” In 1841 Dr Mütter was appointed Professor of Surgery at the Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia.

Dr. Mütter had always had poor health, even in childhood, and his dedication to his passion, long hours, took its toll on his body. In 1956 he set sail for Europe and resigned his teaching duties. He was named Emeritus Professor of Surgery. Unfortunately, the trip did not help, and he returned to the US in early 1958. Fearful of another winter in cold Philadelphia, he moved to Charleston, SC, where he died on March 19, 1859.

Dr. Mütter’s story does not end here. He was an avid collector and throughout his short life he had pulled together an impressive collection of medical oddities, samples, and curiosities. Knowing that his life was at an end, he negotiated with the Philadelphia College of Physicians to have them host his collection in perpetuity as well as the creation of a trust fund that would ensure that the public and medical students would have access to this incredible collection. Through the years this collection has increased and is known today as the Mütter Museum of the Philadelphia College of Physicians. I strongly urge our readers to visit this incredible museum. For more information, click here.

Personal notes: In the late 90’s, I attended a meeting of the American Association of Clinical Anatomists.  During the meeting I met Gretchen Worden, who at the time was the Curator of the Mütter museum. Gretchen was inspirational, fun, and a great conversationalist! I had the opportunity to visit Gretchen at the Mütter museum and had the luck to be treated to a “behind the scenes” tour. What an experience! I was saddened to hear that Gretchen Worden passed on August 2, 2004. Still, in my recent visit to the Mütter Museum, I was glad to see a new section at the museum that remembers Gretchen. Her biography can be read here.

I would like to thank Dr. Leslie Wolf for lending me the book by O’Keefe that lead to me writing this article. Dr. Miranda

1. “Dr. Mütter’s Marvels: A True Tale of Intrigue and Innovation at the Dawn of Modern Medicine” O’Keefe, C. 2015 Penguin Random House, LLC
2. “A Discourse Commemorative of the Late Professor T.D. Mütter” Pancoast, J. 1859 J Wilson Publisher
3. “Thomas Dent Mütter: the humble narrative of a surgeon, teacher, and curious collector” Baker, J, et al. The American Surgeon, Atlanta 77:iss5 662-14
4. “Thomas Dent Mutter, MD: early reparative surgeon” Harris, ES; Morgan, RF. Ann Plast Surg 1994 33(3):333-8
5. “5 Things I Learned from Thomas Dent Mütter” O’Keefe C.

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The word [bregma] is Greek and means "the front of the head". It is actually the point of intersection of the the coronal and sagittal sutures. The coronal suture is the articulation or joint between the frontal and parietal bones, and the sagittal suture is the median joint between both parietal bones. 

The term was first used in anatomy as a craniometric point by Paul Broca (1824 - 1880). The image shows a superior view of two heads and the location of the coronal and sagittal sutures. The bregma is the point of intersection of these two articulations.

Click on the image for a larger view. 

Original image courtesy of Wikipedia

1 = coronal suture 2 = sagittal suture 3 = lambdoid suture. The bregma is the point of intersection of 1 and 2

1 = coronal suture 2 = sagittal suture 3 = lambdoid suture. The bregma is the point of intersection of 1 and 2

Marie-Francois Xavier Bichat

This article is part of the series "A Moment in History" where we honor those who have contributed to the growth of medical knowledge in the areas of anatomy, medicine, surgery, and medical research.To search all the articles in this series, click here.

Marie-Francois Xavier Bichat (1771 - 1802). French physician, surgeon, anatomist and physiologist, Marie-Francois Xavier Bichat was born in the village of Thoirette. His father was a physician, influencing his early instruction and vocation. In Lyon he studied anatomy and surgery. At 28 years of age Bichat was appointed physician to the Hôtel (Hospital) Dieu. His life was influenced by his mentor, Pierre-Joseph Dassault (1738 - 1795). Upon his mentor's death Bichat took upon him to continue and finish his work, while supporting his mentor's family.

Bichat is know for the concept of the body composed of distinct tissues, which he originally called "membranes". Without the aid of the microscope Bichat described 21 different tissues and is considered the founder of the science of histology. His name is preserved in many eponymic structures such as Bichat’s fossa (pterygopalatine fossa), Bichat’s buccal fat pad, Bichat’s foramen (cistern of the vena magna of Galen), Bichat’s ligament (lower fasciculus of the posterior sacroiliac ligament), and Bichat’s tunica intima (tunica intima vasorum). 

Xavier Bichat also contributed to a newer description of the humoral physiological theory, later becoming the basis of hematology. He was also interested in the description of life and death, proposing the existence of an "organic life" and an "animal life". An interesting note is that Bichat died because of an infection he acquired while dissecting a cadaver. Remember that at the time, no embalming was used!

Today Bichat's name is almost forgotten, although in some countries the buccal fat pad is still called "Bichat's fat pad" In many Spanish-speaking countries this structure is referred to as "la bola grasa de Bichat", and many still refer to the removal of this fat pad as "Bichectomy". For an image of the before and after of the procedure, click here.

1. "Marie-Fran?ois Xavier Bichat (1771-1802) and his contributions to the foundations of pathological anatomy and modern medicine" Shoja M.M., Tubbs R.S., Loukas M., Shokouhi G., Ardalan M.R.(2008) Annals of Anatomy, 190(5),413-420
2. "Physiological Researches on Life and Death" Bichat, Marie-Francois Xavier, 1827. Translated from French by F. Gold. Richardson and Lord, Boston.
3. "A Historical Perspective: Infection from Cadaveric Dissection from the 18th to the 20th Centuries" Shoja, MM et al. Clin Anat (2013) 26:154-160 

Marie_Francois Xavier Bichat

Original image courtesy of
Images from the History of Medicine


This complex medical word is formed by the combination of two root terms: [dacry-] meaning "tear" and [-cyst-], meaning "sac". The combined root [dacryocyst-] means "tear sac" or better, "lacrimal sac" (the Latin word [lacrima] means "tear"). This medical word also has a combined suffix: [-(o)lith], meaning "stone", and [-iasis], meaning "disease or condition".

The word [dacryocystolithiasis] means then, "a condition or pathology of stones (calculi) in the lacrimal sac". The procedure to remove the stones would then be called a [dacryocystolithectomy].


The Hamate bone is one of the four bones that comprise the distal row of the carpus or carpal bones that form the wrist. The name arises from the Latin [hamatus], meaning "hooked". The hamate bone has a distinct hook-like bony process in its volar (anterior) surface, known as the hamulus. This bone is also known as the "unciform bone" (from the Latin [uncus], also meaning "hook") or the os hamatum.

The lunate bone has a wedge-like shape and six surfaces (as a die). It articulates with five bones, including the lunate bone, capitate, triquetrum, and the fourth and fifth metacarpal bones.

The hook of the hamate bone is one of the distal boundaries of the carpal tunnel and serves as a pulley for the tendons of the fourth and fifth flexor tendons. It also serves as one of the points of muscular attachment for the following muscles: flexor carpi ulnaris, flexor digit minimi, and opponens digiti minimi. Because of its projection into the palm of the hand, the hamulus is involved in injuries in sports that require the athlete to use an accessory, as in racquetball, tennis, baseball, golf, etc.

The accompanying image shows the anterior (volar) surface of the wrist. Click on the image for a larger picture.

Scaphoid bone - anterior (volar) view of the wrist

Image modified from the original: "3D Human Anatomy: Regional Edition DVD-ROM." Courtesy of Primal Pictures



The word itself arises from the Greek. The root term [-phleb-] derives from [φλέβα] (phleba) meaning "vein", and the suffix [-otomy], meaning "to cut" or "to open". Let's not forget that the suffix component  [-y] means "process of". So [phlebotomy] is the "process (or action) of cutting open a vein"

For centuries a standard practice in medicine was to "bleed" a patient, by opening a vein under controlled conditions and letting some blood flow. The practice was known as "bloodletting" or phlebotomy. Not in use today, it is said that excessive bloodletting contributed to the death of George Washington, having removed 5 pints of blood in one day!. Today the professionals who draw blood are called "phlebotomists"

The image (circa 1860) depicts one of the only known three photographs of a bloodletting procedure. Observe the lack of aseptic technique.

Image by The Burns Archive, courtesy of Wikipedia.org.

Iliopubic tract

The iliopubic tract is a thickening of the transversalis fascia found in direct relation, immediately posterior to the inguinal (Poupart's) ligament. As the inguinal ligament, the iliopubic tract extends between the anterior superior iliac spine (ASIS) superolaterally, and the pubic tubercle inferomedially. 

This obscure structure has been brought up to light because it is one of the anatomical landmarks used in laparoscopic herniorrhaphy. When securing a mesh to reinforce the posterior abdominal wall, and also prevent mesh migration, the surgeon will place sutures, tacks, or staples in this structure. Since the iliopubic tract (posteriorly) and the inguinal ligament (anteriorly) are so close together, they are both secured when doing this procedure.

Inguinal ligamentImage property of: CAA.Inc.Artist: D.M. Klein
The image shows the location of the inguinal ligament. The iliopubic tract is immediately posterior to it.