Anatomy word of the month: mastoid

May 1, 2009 —

Would you believe that the name for the little bony prominence behind your ear means “like a breast” referring to its shape? The name was more familiar to the public before the advent of antibiotics as mastoiditis. Inflammation in this area can erode through the bone into the cranium and become meningitis (inflammation of the membranes surrounding the brain) and even encephalitis (inflammation of the brain). Before antibiotics, mastoiditis had a high mortality rate among children who typically developed the inflammation as an extension of a middle ear infection. The same word root is found in the term mastectomy (removal of a breast). Using the Latin root gives us mammogram (an x-ray of the breast).

Would you believe that the same word root is found in Amazons? Part of the myth of this legendary race of warrior woman is that they amputated their right breast in order to pull their war bows unhindered in battle. Hence, the ancient Greeks named them a mazos, literally, without a breast.


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