Taking the ‘Shame Part’ Out of Female Anatomy

Rachel Draper in The New York Times:

Allison Draper loved anatomy class. As a first-year medical student at the University of Miami, she found the language clear, precise, functional. She could look up the Latin term for almost any body part and get an idea of where it was and what it did. The flexor carpi ulnaris, for instance, is a muscle in the forearm that bends the wrist — exactly as its name suggests. Then one day she looked up the pudendal nerve, which provides sensation to the vagina and vulva, or outer female genitalia. The term derived from the Latin verb pudere: to be ashamed. The shame nerve, Ms. Draper noted: “I was like, What? Excuse me?”

It grew worse. When her teacher handed her a copy of the “Terminologia Anatomica,” the international dictionary of anatomical terms, she learned that the Latin term for the vulva — including the inner and outer labia, the clitoris and the pubic mound — was pudendum. Translation: the part to be ashamed of. There was no equivalent word for male genitals.

That’s when she really got fired up.

Anatomy as a science had its start in 16th-century Italy, as the purview of learned men. At the time it was a stretch to find a female corpse, let alone a female anatomist. Little wonder, then, that some words might sound a little off to modern ears. What surprised Ms. Draper was that this one had made it through 500 years of revisions and updates — and virtually no one knew what it meant.

More here.