Anatomy word of the month: Phrenic nerve

January 2, 2012 —

The_Thinker_RodinThe phrenic nerves control the diaphragm, our major muscle of respiration (breathing). From the Greek, phrenic means both diaphragm and mind. The ancient Greeks believed that the diaphragm was the seat of our emotions. Sound farfetched? Have you ever “heaved a sigh” of sadness or relief? The same stem is found in schizophrenic and, less obviously, in frenetic, meaning extremely agitated or maniacal. The latter word underwent a transformation from the Greek word phrenitikos. The ancient Romans had a related word in the Latin, mentum, which means both mind and chin!  Maybe, not so farfetched, hmmm? Ever rub your chin while thinking? Perhaps the ancients thought massaging our chin stimulated thought. Are you familiar with Rodin’s statue of The Thinker, the sitting man with his chin resting on his hand? Conjure up a “mental” image!


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?

Comments