For instance, terms may refer to the place where anatomical structures are situated in the body. For example, the infraspinatus muscle and the supraspinatus muscle are situated under (infra) and above (supra) the spina (spinous process, something that protrudes), respectively, at the back of the shoulder blade. Or alternatively, a term may tell you something about the form of an anatomical structure. This is the case, for instance, with the teres minor muscle, which translates as ‘small twisted muscle’.

Anatomical structures may be named in groups, as is the case for the vastus medialis, vastus lateralis and vastus intermedius, three of the four quadriceps (‘four-headed’) muscles. These are the large (vastus) muscles on the inner side (medialis) and outer side (lateralis) of the leg. The intermedius is found in between.

However, generally, names of muscles or medical terms were determined in isolation, which results in interesting associations. For instance, along with the subscapularis muscle (‘under the shoulder blade’), the three shoulder muscles referred to above form the rotator cuff, which attaches to a ring of connective tissue, the labrum (‘lip’), on the glenoid cavity, with ‘glenoid’ meaning ‘resembling an eye’.

The lip of something resembling an eye. As you’ll understand by now, the names of body parts are a poetic treasure. The Rotterdam-based poet Ester Naomi Perquin likes to tap into this treasure. Please find below a poem from her collection, Meervoudig afwezig:

After a very long search, they managed to trace the location;
it was found to be a perfect circle, encircled by the dark places

of the brain, near the island of Reil:
they marked the position using chemicals.

That the act of forgetting can be traced so exactly, down to
the exact circumference, the precise centre and how it is enveloped by
the act of remembering

Wonderful, like a ring around
no one’s finger.

The island of Reil (insula) is a functional anatomical structure in the brain, an electrical substation of sorts that is involved in all sorts of things. These kinds of semantic associations are wonderful to read up on.

What may be even more interesting is the fact that some of these terms are not necessarily free from politics. Take, for instance, oestrogen, a female sex hormone that is involved in ovulation and pregnancy. It is derived from the Greek word oistros, which refers to ‘anger’, ‘insanity’ and ‘hysteria’.

Some people believe it refers to the increased sexual desire that comes with a high level of oestrogen. The word ‘hysteria’, which comes from the Greek word hustos, which means ‘uterus’, disproves this, by mutual reference to emotion and physiology.

By now these words have been sterilised, robbed of their original meanings, so that no one is immediately reminded of anger when they see the word ‘oestrogen’. However, the words do show how doctors feel or used to feel about women. Women are impetuous, fickle, capricious, crazy. That is because of their physiology, because of the way they are.

The same principle is true for men: boys will be boys. They bide their time, and aren’t liable, and definitely not guilty, due to the male equivalent of oestrogen, testosterone, which rages through our bodies. As witnessed by the fact that the word ‘testosterone’ refers to testis, a witness.

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Oud-Herkingse Zeedijk

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