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.


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