What’s in a name?

An introduction to the beginning of a life-long obsession with artistic anatomy

ἡ Μελπομένη καί ἡ Θάλεια (Melpomene and Thalia), Graphite on paper,
27.5″x33″. © Darryl Smith, 2019.

I have this slight theory that each part of the body contains words related to a specific theme. In these Wordy Wednesday posts, my aim will be to expound on these words as they relate to artistic anatomy by way of directly translating, cross-referencing, and analyzing roots and their meaning, as well as other, more visual ways of understanding artistic anatomy such as origin and insertion, shape, form and function.

What I have come across while studying anatomy in other languages is that most other languages have their own native way of describing specific muscles, bones, articulations, ligaments, and tendons where as in English, these specificities are not necessarily present. We do, however, have words for certain bones, such as the collar bone for clavicle, skull for cranium, and elbow for the olecranon. With that being said, I am aware that for artists these names may not totally be relevant, and that knowing the form and the function of a muscle or bone is what will be directly influential for the creative process and understanding of the human form, however I am a huge advocate for being fluent in all aspects of anatomy.

These Latin and Greek words which we use in artistic anatomy are all meaningful…and most of the time the meanings are quite simple. These words can go far beyond just a mere dictionary translation and can thus tell you more formal and functional information. So, what’s in a name?

  • shape (deltoid, mastoid process, glenoid fossa)
  • convexity and concavity (fossa, tubercle, linea aspera)
  • form (gastrocnemius, fibula, biceps femoris)
  • size (gluteus maximus, latissimus dorsi, teres major)
  • origin and insertion (omohyoid, sternocleidomastoid, iliocostalis)
  • general location (brachialis, rectus abdominis, frontalis)
  • fiber direction (obliquus externus, splenius, longissimus thoracis)
  • function (extensor digitorum, pronator teres, trochlea)

I want to take our notion of artistic anatomy and break it down even further into simpler elements…after all, the word anatomy itself means cross section or dissection. The knowledge of these words will be yet another act of dissection and a way of introducing and analytical approach to the representation of the human figure.

And this is a learning process for me, too! Lately I have been coming across definitions of words that open up an entirely new perspective on how I can grasp artistic anatomy as a whole.


post chirurgiam cardiacam (After heart surgery), 24-carat goldpoint on mineral paper, 9″x9″. (© Darryl Smith, 2019)

Let’s dive into my favorite part of the body by first taking a more literary approach:

It is our shield against the outside world,
a cage which encloses that which gives us life.
The gladiator stands fast in the battlefield,
with his sword close to his heart,
the handle under the neck,
and the blade downwards.
What keeps him breathing
is now well fortified.

So that lil poem I wrote is 1) definitely my own and I’m quite proud of it, and 2) all about the torso. Essentially in this I translated most of the words used in artistic anatomy to describe the bones of the rib cage and sternum. In terms of the theme of the words of the torso, I feel that they are related to war. The torso is physiologically and also, as you will soon read, literally a protective shield for your organs which help us breath and pump blood and energy throughout our body.

Below are the words, with their Greek or Latin origin, as well as their translations:

  • cavea thoracis: thoracix cage
    • θώραξ (thórax): breastplate
  • στέρνον (stérnon): the breast, chest, heart (as in the seat of affections)
  • manubrium: the part of a weapon held by the hand (manus in Latin)
  • gladiolus: a little sword (same root as the word gladiator)
  • processus xiphoideus: a projection that looks like a sword
    • processus: a projection
    • ξίφος (xífos): sword
    • οἶδα (oida): to know/see (I had to dig deep for this one but I will write a post specifically on this word)

So many swords. And as far as I know, no other place in the body references war as much as the torso. It’s quite fascinating!

BUT this is just a snippet and already there was so much information covered! I hope you enjoyed this blog’s first Wordy Wednesday!!

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