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 

Title page of Anathomia Corporis Humanis by Mondino de Luzzi. Image courtesy of the National Library of Medicine
Title page of "Anathomia Corporis Humanis" by Mondino de Luzzi

Alessandra Giliani

(1307 – 1326

Italian prosector and anatomist. Alessandra Giliani is the first woman to be on record as being an anatomist and prossector. She was born on 1307 in the town of Persiceto in northern Italy.

She was admitted to the University of Bologna circa 1323. Most probably she studied philosophy and the foundations of anatomy and medicine. She studied under Mondino de Luzzi (c.1270 – 1326), one of the most famous teachers at Bologna.

Giliani was the prosector for the dissections performed at the Bolognese “studium” in the Bologna School of Anatomy. She developed a technique (now lost to history) to highlight the vascular tree in a cadaver using fluid dyes which would harden without destroying them. Giliani would later paint these structures using a small brush. This technique allowed the students to see even small veins.

Giliani died at the age of 19 on March 26, 1326, the same year that her teacher Mondino de Luzzi died.  It is said that she was buried in front of the Madonna delle Lettere in the church of San Pietro e Marcellino at the Hospital of Santa Maria del Mareto in Florence by Otto Agenius Lustrulanus, another assistant to Modino de Luzzi.

Some ascribe to Agenius a love interest in Giliani because of the wording of the plaque that is translated as follows:

"In this urn enclosed are the ashes of the body of 
Alessandra Giliani, a maiden of Persiceto. 
Skillful with her brush in anatomical demonstrations 
And a disciple equaled by few, 
Of the most noted physician, Mondino de Luzzi, 
She awaits the resurrection. 
She lived 19 years: She died consumed by her labors 
March 26, in the year of grace 1326. 
Otto Agenius Lustrulanus, by her taking away 
Deprived of his better part, inconsolable for his companion, 
Choice and deservinging of the best from himself, 
Has erected this plaque"

Sir William Osler says of Alessandra Giliani “She died, consumed by her labors, at the early age of nineteen, and her monument is still to be seen”

The teaching of anatomy in the times of Mondino de Luzzi and Alessandra Giliani required the professor to be seated on a high chair or “cathedra” from whence he would read an anatomy book by Galen or another respected author while a prosector or “ostensor” would demonstrate the structures to the student. The professor would not consider coming down from the cathedra to discuss the anatomy shown. This was changed by Andreas Vesalius.

The image in this article is a close up of the title page of Mondino’s “Anothomia Corporis Humani” written in 1316, but published in 1478. Click on the image for a complete depiction of this title page. I would like to think that the individual doing the dissection looking up to the cathedra and Mondino de Luzzi is Alessandra Giliani… we will never know.

The life and death of Alessandra Giliani has been novelized in the fiction book “A Golden Web” by Barbara Quick.

1. “Books of the Body: Anatomical Ritual and Renaissance Learning” Carlino, A. U Chicago Press, 1999 
2. “Encyclopedia of World Scientists” Oakes, EH. Infobase Publishing, 2002 
3. “The Biographical Dictionary of Women in Science”Harvey, J; Ogilvie, M. Vol1. Routledge 2000 
4. “The Evolution of Modern Medicine” Osler, W. Yale U Press 1921 
5. “The Mondino Myth” Pilcher, LS. 1906 
Original image courtesy of NLM

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This is a medical root term with a Latin origin and means "to cut". There is a corresponding Greek suffix [-otome], or [-otomy] that has a similar meaning. Uses of this term include:

Incision : "To cut in"
Incisive: Something that "cuts in"
Incisor: Refers to a type of tooth that has a "cutting in" action
Excision: The prefix [ex-] means "out" or "outside". To cut out, or to extirpate. See the meaning of the suffix [-ectomy] here
Circumcision: The prefix [circum-] means "around", or "in a circle". To cut around (in a circle)

Aortic arch

The aortic arch is a segment of the aorta that arches from the midline towards posterior and to the left. It presents with three branches. From proximal to distal they are the brachiocephalic trunk, the left common carotid artery, and the left subclavian artery. There are several anatomical variations of the branches of the aortic arch.

There is no clear anatomical landmark to denote the ending of the ascending aorta and the beginning of the aortic arch, as there is no clear anatomical landmark to denote the ending of the aortic arch and the beginning of the descending aorta. Anatomists use as a reference a horizontal plane that passes through the angle of Louis. Since this plane also separates the inferior from the superior mediastinum, the aortic arch is found in the superior mediastium, while the ascending and descending aorta are found in the inferior mediastinum.

Aortic arch and branches

Heart - Anterior view  Click on the image for a larger version.

The aortic arch has anatomical relations with the bifurcation of the trachea, the pulmonary trunk and its bifurcation, and the left brachiocephalic vein. In its inferior surface, the aortic arch in the adult has the embryological remnant of the ductus arteriousus, called the ligamentum arteriosum.

The term "aortic arch" was coined and first used by Lorenz Heister (1683 1785) 

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


This is a medical root term that originates from the Greek and means "vessel", as in a "container". The term is commonly misunderstood to mean "artery". The original meanings of the term in early Greek and Roman medicine where multiple. It was Lorenz Heister (1683-1758) who first used the term in its modern meaning. Applications of this root term include:

Angiology: Study of vessels
Angioma: Vessel tumor or mass, usually referred to a malformation of knotted vessels. The plural form is "angiomata"
Angioplasty: Reshaping of a vessel
Angiitis: Inflammation of a vessel. Note the double "i" in the word. This is the correct form of the term. "Angitis" is not correct!
Angiogenesis: Creation or generation of vessels
Neoangiogenesis: The prefix [neo-] means [new], therefore the term means "creation or generation of new vessels"
Cholangiogram: The prefix [chol-] means "bile", while the suffix [-ogram] means "examination of". A [cholangiogram] is the "examination of a bile vessel"
Cineangiogram: The prefix [cine-] means "movement", although we use it to mean "movie", while the suffix [-ogram] means "examination of". A [cineangiogram] is the "examination of a vessel in movement"


This is a medical root term that originates from the Greek "arthron" which means "joint". The term is used in many medical words. Applications of this root term include:

• Arthrotomy: Opening of a joint
Arthritis: Inflammation (or infection) of a joint
Arthrology: Study of a joint
Arthrodesis: Fixation of a joint
Arthropathy: A disease affecting a joint
Arthroplasty: Reshaping of a joint
Arthroscopy: Visualizing inside a joint with a scope

As a side note: What is the plural form for arthritis? Hover your cursor over the word "arthritis" to see the answer

Xiphoid appendix

The term [xiphoid] is Greek in origin and points to the similarity [-oid] of the lower end of the sternum to a short straight sword [xyphos]. The term xiphoid refers to the lower cartilaginous inferior tip of the sternum. It presents with anatomical variations that include a central opening, or large processes that look like a disc, or even a bifid xiphoid process.

It has been named the xiphisternum, the metasternum, and the ensiform process. It is the last cartilage to ossify in the human, and it is used as a landmark for laparoscopic surgery. i.e. a subxiphoid port is a location for a laparoscopic port in the abdomen.

As a side note, another term used for [sternum] is the Latin word [gladius], referring to the short Roman straight sword of the gladiators. This term is no longer in use, but if it were, the xiphoid appendix would be the tip of the sword.

Think about this: why is a certain plant called a "gladiolus"?

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

Sternum - Xiphoid appendix

Click on the image for a larger version.

Charles H. McBurney, MD

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.

Charles H. McBurney, MD (1845- 1913). British surgeon and anatomist, Dr. McBurney studied at Harvard University, and received his MD from the Colombia University in New York. At the forefront of the aseptic technique revolution, Dr. MacBurney, following Halsted's example, required the use of surgical gloves and strict aseptic technique in his operating room, considered the "first modern operating room in America"

His studies focused on appendicitis, and demonstrated a point of maximum tenderness at a point "exactly between an inch and a half and two inches from the anterior spinous process of the ileum on a straight line drawn between that process and the umbilicus". This point has become known as the eponymic "McBurney's point". There is a discrepancy between the original description of this point by McBurney and some medical publications. Continuing his research on the surgical approach to the inflamed vermiform appendix, in 1894 Dr. MacBurney presented an approach that used a small incision for appendectomy. This incision is know today as "McBurney's incision."

1. "Charles Heber McBurney (1845 – 1913)" Yale,SH and Musana, KA Clin Med Res. 2005 August; 3(3): 187–189.
2. "Charles McBurney (1845–1913)—point, sign, and incision"  JAMA 1966;197:1098–1099
3. "The first modern operating room in America"  Clemons BJ AORN J. 2000 Jan;71(1):164-8, 170

Original imagecourtesy of National Institutes of Health.