Anatomy word of the month: torcular herophili

November 1, 2009 —

There are two major categories of anatomical terms: those that are simply descriptive as to shape, size, color, function and eponyms, the practice of honoring those who discover or first describe a structure by applying their name to it (e.g. pancreatic duct vs. duct of Wirsung). The problem with eponyms is that they do not give you any information as to what or where is the structure.

Herophilus was a Greek physician (c. 335 BC) who was one of the first to dissect human bodies. He is known as the Father of Anatomy. But, where would a “wine press” be located in the body? Within the cranium the veins, actually venous sinuses, come together at the back of the skull in a structure called the confluence of the sinuses. This cavity has four large veins radiating from it, supposedly, resembling the spigots that pour dark purple juice out of the four sides of the ancient wine press used to squeeze grapes with a handled screw on the top. Torcula is derived from a Latin word meaning to “twist”. The same stem is found in common words such as torture and tortuous.