X-rated neuroanatomy

Slate has a curious article on how many of the anatomical names for parts of the brain are based on the nether-regions of the human body or bawdy allusions to sex.

Régis Olry, of the University of Quebec, and Duane Haines, of the University of Mississippi, brought the whole sordid tale to light in an intriguing pair of articles for the Journal of the History of the Neurosciences. These “historians of neuroanatomy” (yes, there is such a profession, and we should be grateful for it) reviewed a very old, circuitous medical literature and found that the human brain was once described as comprising its very own vulva, penis, testicles, buttocks, and even an anus. In fact, part of the cerebrum is still named in honor of long-forgotten whores.

A past professor of neuroanatomy told me that one of the old arguments for why women couldn’t be doctors is because the their delicate nature would be affected by all the rude Latin jokes in the anatomical names.

Following this line of argument, we might expect atheists to be scared away from neuroscience as well owing to the number of structures that are named after gods.

If you remain unshocked by the vulgarity of the brain, the Slate article may be for you.

Link to Slate article on bawdy neuroanatomy.


  1. Emmy
    Posted May 17, 2011 at 6:53 pm | Permalink

    Good old boy’s club. Between that and the outdated medical care, I indeed find myself thanking several goddesses that I was not alive back then. Interesting you should mention the atheist aspect – my sister lent me a book (I’d have to look up the title) which hypothesized that the devil in Witchcraft rumor was a result of male doctors’ jealousy of female herbalist healers. Male physicians did not want the competition so they put out a rumor that the women were summoning evil spirits.

  2. Posted May 17, 2011 at 7:10 pm | Permalink

    I was always struck by how mundane and literal anatomical terms were – this is the kite shaped nucleus, this is the black stuff, this is the blue area, this is the nucleus that leans against this other bit. I’d like to think at least some of them used to have more interesting names…

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