Anatomy word of the month: cadaver

April 1, 2011 —

“To fall”, “to perish” in Latin. Many terms are used for a dead body some more irreverent than others: the decedent, a corpse, a stiff, a cadaver. But only the last word is exclusively used for a body that has been preserved for dissection. Although atlases, highly realistic models, and computer simulations have supplemented even supplanted some dissection, the detailed study of a cadaver is still essential. Dissection instructs students in the tremendous variation in human anatomy that one must know whether palpating a worrisome lump or performing surgery. Reflecting this is the Latin inscription found over the doors of many dissection labs: Hic locus est ubi mors gaudet succurrere vitae. Translated: “This is the place where Death rejoices in helping Life”.

The Latin root in cadaver, cadere, is also found in the common words: decay, decadence and cadence. The last word defines the rhythmic footfalls of military marching, and in its Italian version, cadenza, the flourish that concludes or comes near the end of a piece of music.


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