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.

"Clinical Anatomy Associates, Inc., and the contributors of "Medical Terminology Daily" wish to thank all individuals who donate their bodies and tissues for the advancement of education and research”.

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From the Greek [spondylos] meaning "vertebra", its combining form is [spondylo-]. Use of this term include:

SpondylitisInflammation of a vertebra.
- Spondylosis: The suffix [-osis] means "condition", but with the connotation of "many". The term means "many vertebrae", but it refers to excessive abnormal growth of portions of the vertebral body, usually forming "bone spurs", also referred to as "spondylophytes"
- Spondylolysis: From the Greek [lysis], meaning "loosening", the term is used to mean "destruction" or "breaking of". Spondylolysis refers to the breakage, destruction, or loosening of part of a vertebra.
- Spondylolisthesis: From the Greek term [olisthos] meaning "slippery".  A "slippery vertebra", referring to the forward displacement of a vertebra over another one.

Image property of: CAA.Inc. Photographer: David M. Klein


Peter Paul Broca

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.
Peter Paul Broca (1824- 1880). Surgeon and anthropologist, Peter Paul Broca was born in Sainte-Foy-la-Grande in France. His earlier studies were in mathematics, but graduated in medicine, becoming a professor of clinical surgery. He became interested in anthropology and applied his mathematical expertise to the measurement and interpretation of his findings in comparative anatomy.

Broca was the founder of the first Anthropological Society of Paris, and used this venue to deliver most of his work. A prolific writer, Broca published over 500 scientific papers and several books. At one of the meetings of the society the discussion was directed to brain areas and speech. Broca had a patient with a condition that he referred to as aphemia (later known as aphasia); this patient died a few days later and upon autopsy, Broca was able to see a distinct cavity in the left lateral frontal lobe. Upon finding the same situation in another patient, he was able to describe the area of the brain responsible for speech, known today as "Broca's area" in the third left frontal brain convolution. Broca is responsible for naming many of the craniometric points in the human skull such as bregma, dacryon, inion, lambda, metopion, etc.

Broca was part of the discovery and study of the Neanderthal man. He remained the secretary of the Anthropological Society of Paris until his death in 1880. 

Peter Paul BrocaOriginal imagecourtesy of
National Institutes of Health.


The term [aphasia] has Greek origins and means "without speech". This pathology was first described by Paul Broca who called it "aphemia".

Aphasia is a total and complete loss of speech. Lesser presentations of this condition should be called [dysphasias) from the prefix [dys-] meaning "abnormal", and  [phasia], meaning "speech".

Aphasia is the lack of spoken  speech due to cerebral cortex damage in the dominant brain hemisphere, usually the left side in right-handed individuals. There are two main areas of the brain involved in speech: Broca's and Wernicke's. Broca's area is responsible for speech expression (the spoken and written word). Damage to this area causes expressive or motor aphasia (or dysphasia).

Wernicke's area is responsible for the comprehension of speech, the understanding of language. Damage to this area causes receptive orsensory aphasia (or dysphasia). Broca's and Wernicke's areas are connected by an intrahemispheric tract known as the arcuate fasciculus (see image).

Broca and Wernicke's areas in the dominant brain hemisphere

Broca and Wernicke's areas in the dominant brain hemisphere

Complete loss of all communication abilities is called global aphasia. Other dysphasia pathologies are:

• Agraphia / dysgraphia: Incapacity / difficulty in writing
• Anomia / dysnomia: Incapacity / difficulty in naming objects
• Aphrasia / dysphrasia: Incapacity / difficulty forming phrases or sentences. The patient can communicate with single words, but cannot form sentences.

Image under copyleft agreement courtesy of The Brain from Top to Bottom
Thanks to  Margaret P. Tschimperle for suggesting this word. 


The scaphoid is one of the proximal carpal bones that form the wrist. The name arises from the Greek [scaphe], meaning "boat"; and [-oid], meaning "similar to". The scaphoid bone roughly resembles a rowboat. It is also known as the navicular bone (from the Latin [navis] meaning "boat"), and os naviculare manus.

Proximally, the scaphoid bone articulates with the radius. Distally, the scaphoid articulates with the trapezium and trapezoid bones. On its medial  aspect, the scaphoid bone has two articular surfaces for the lunate and the hamate bones. The scaphoid bone also has very strong ligamentous connections with the lunate bone by way of the scapholunate interosseous ligament

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

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

Scaphoid bone - anterior (volar) view of the wrist


Cardiac muscle

Cardiac muscle is one of the three types of muscle found in the human body. It is found exclusively in the heart, where it forms the main component of its middle layer, the myocardium.  

[Myo]=combining form for "muscle"; [-card-]=heart; and [-ium]=layer or membrane. The myocardium is the muscle layer of the heart.

Cardiac muscle has distinct striations and intercalated discs (see accompanying image). The cardiac muscle acts as a functional syncytium

The key characteristic of cardiac muscle is its capacity to contract rhythmically in the absence of an external electrical stimulus. The other two types of muscle (smooth and skeletal) lack this characteristic, called automatism or automaticity.

Cardiac muscle (Dr. S. Girod, A. Becker)
Original image by S. Girod and A. Becker, courtesy of Wikipedia. Click on the image for a larger version.

Medial / lateral

The terms [medial] and [lateral] are opposing anatomical relationship terms that indicate the location of a structure or structures in relation to the midline or median plane. The accompanying image depicts the median plane.

The term "midline" is a bit of a misnomer, as this is a plane and not a line, although if you look at the median plane from the anterior or posterior aspect of an individual in the anatomical position, you would have a line, ergo, midline! Look at this article on the anatomical position to see an explanation and image of this concept.

The term [medial] means "closer to the midline". An example of the use of this term is: "the head of the clavicle is medial to the shoulder joint", that is, the head of the clavicle is closer to the midline than the shoulder joint.

The term [lateral] means "further from the midline". An example of the use of this term is: "the wrist joint is lateral to the elbow joint", that is, the wrist joint is further away from the midline than the elbow joint.

Click on the image for a visual explanation of the concepts of "medial" and "lateral".


Images property of: CAA.Inc. Artist: Victoria G. Ratcliffe

Medial / Lateral