Anatomy word of the month: fornix

June 1, 2009 —

Deep within each cerebral hemisphere is an arch of nerve fibers that is aptly named the fornix which means an arch, a vaulted ceiling, a brothel. A brothel? Although the fornix is a part of the brain, the limbic system, dealing with strong emotions such as rage, fear and sexual arousal, the anatomical term is strictly architectural. A fornix is also found at the superior end of the vagina, again, in the architectural sense, describing its “vaulted ceiling” surrounding the cervix of the uterus.

The architectural reference became associated with “brothel” in ancient Rome where prostitutes were restricted to soliciting only under the archways of the outer city gates. The same stem is found in fornication, a word that originally meant to be “a frequenter of brothels”, later, more broadly as intercourse outside of marriage.


Dr. Dyche was born in New Jersey and trained at Penn State’s Hershey Medical Center before coming to Des Moines in 1976. Over 30 plus years he has taught gross anatomy, embryology and neuroanatomy. He also served in administration as associate dean for basic sciences, dean of the College of Health Sciences, and acting director of the PA program. He was one of the founding instructors of CPR and ACLS at a time when few medical schools offered this training. He retired to Oregon in 2008, then returned to DMU in 2009. Did he miss the tornadoes, the below zero wind chills or the cadavers?

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