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By the end of this section, you will be able to:
  • Describe the criteria used to name skeletal muscles
  • Explain how understanding the muscle names helps describe shapes, location, and actions of various muscles

The Greeks and Romans conducted the first studies done on the human body in Western culture. The educated class of subsequent societies studied Latin and Greek, and therefore the early pioneers of anatomy continued to apply Latin and Greek terminology or roots when they named the skeletal muscles. The large number of muscles in the body and unfamiliar words can make learning the names of the muscles in the body seem daunting, but understanding the etymology can help. Etymology is the study of how the root of a particular word entered a language and how the use of the word evolved over time. Taking the time to learn the root of the words is crucial to understanding the vocabulary of anatomy and physiology. When you understand the names of muscles it will help you remember where the muscles are located and what they do ( [link] , [link] , and [link] ). Pronunciation of words and terms will take a bit of time to master, but after you have some basic information; the correct names and pronunciations will become easier.

Overview of the muscular system

The top panel shows the anterior view of the human body with the major muscles labeled. The bottom panel shows the posterior view of the human body with the major muscles labeled.
On the anterior and posterior views of the muscular system above, superficial muscles (those at the surface) are shown on the right side of the body while deep muscles (those underneath the superficial muscles) are shown on the left half of the body. For the legs, superficial muscles are shown in the anterior view while the posterior view shows both superficial and deep muscles.

Understanding a muscle name from the latin

This table shows two examples of muscle names and how to translate them based on their Latin roots. The first row uses abductor digiti minimi as an example. The word abductor comes from the Latin roots ab, which means away from, and duct, which means to move. Therefore an abductor is a muscle that moves away from something. The word digiti comes from the Latin root digititus, which means digit and refers to a finger or toe. The word minimi comes from the Latin root minimus, which means minimum, tiny, or little. Therefore, the abductor digiti minimi is a muscle that moves the little finger or toe away. The second row uses the adductor digiti minimi as an example. The word adductor comes from the Latin root ad, which means to or toward, and duct, which means to move. Therefore an adductor is a muscle that moves toward something. As with the abductor digiti minimi, digiti refers to a finger or toe and minimi refers to something that is little. Therefore the adductor digiti minimi is a muscle that moves the little finger or toe forward.
Mnemonic Device for Latin Roots
Example Latin or Greek Translation Mnemonic Device
ad to; toward ADvance toward your goal
ab away from n/a
sub under SUBmarines move under water.
ductor something that moves A conDUCTOR makes a train move.
anti against If you are antisocial, you are against engaging in social activities.
epi on top of n/a
apo to the side of n/a
longissimus longest “Longissimus” is longer than the word “long.”
longus long long
brevis short brief
maximus large max
medius medium “Medius” and “medium” both begin with “med.”
minimus tiny; little mini
rectus straight To RECTify a situation is to straighten it out.
multi many If something is MULTIcolored, it has many colors.
uni one A UNIcorn has one horn.
bi/di two If a ring is DIcast, it is made of two metals.
tri three TRIple the amount of money is three times as much.
quad four QUADruplets are four children born at one birth.
externus outside EXternal
internus inside INternal

Anatomists name the skeletal muscles according to a number of criteria, each of which describes the muscle in some way. These include naming the muscle after its shape, its size compared to other muscles in the area, its location in the body or the location of its attachments to the skeleton, how many origins it has, or its action.

The skeletal muscle’s anatomical location or its relationship to a particular bone often determines its name. For example, the frontalis muscle is located on top of the frontal bone of the skull. Similarly, the shapes of some muscles are very distinctive and the names, such as orbicularis, reflect the shape. For the buttocks, the size of the muscles influences the names: gluteus maximus    (largest), gluteus medius    (medium), and the gluteus minimus    (smallest). Names were given to indicate length— brevis    (short), longus    (long)—and to identify position relative to the midline: lateralis    (to the outside away from the midline), and medialis    (toward the midline). The direction of the muscle fibers and fascicles are used to describe muscles relative to the midline, such as the rectus    (straight) abdominis, or the oblique    (at an angle) muscles of the abdomen.

Some muscle names indicate the number of muscles in a group. One example of this is the quadriceps, a group of four muscles located on the anterior (front) thigh. Other muscle names can provide information as to how many origins a particular muscle has, such as the biceps brachii. The prefix bi    indicates that the muscle has two origins and tri    indicates three origins.

The location of a muscle’s attachment can also appear in its name. When the name of a muscle is based on the attachments, the origin is always named first. For instance, the sternocleidomastoid muscle of the neck has a dual origin on the sternum (sterno) and clavicle (cleido), and it inserts on the mastoid process of the temporal bone. The last feature by which to name a muscle is its action. When muscles are named for the movement they produce, one can find action words in their name. Some examples are flexor    (decreases the angle at the joint), extensor    (increases the angle at the joint), abductor    (moves the bone away from the midline), or adductor    (moves the bone toward the midline).

Chapter review

Muscle names are based on many characteristics. The location of a muscle in the body is important. Some muscles are named based on their size and location, such as the gluteal muscles of the buttocks. Other muscle names can indicate the location in the body or bones with which the muscle is associated, such as the tibialis anterior. The shapes of some muscles are distinctive; for example, the direction of the muscle fibers is used to describe muscles of the body midline. The origin and/or insertion can also be features used to name a muscle; examples are the biceps brachii, triceps brachii, and the pectoralis major.

Questions & Answers

what is the name of the two subunits of L chain of a antibody structure
Arshi Reply
The pituitary gland lies in the
Aamir Reply
bony cavity,sella tursica
how does endochrondral ossification start in short bones?
Steven Reply
the chondroblast cells forms a cartilaginous bone model which becomes calcified in mid region and is innervated by perosteal capillaries. These capillaris replaces cartilages with bone tissue.
what is RH blood group
kuukyile Reply
It is a type of system for classifying blood groups according to the presence or absence of the Rh antigen.
What is the most important organ in the human body?
Gbemi Reply
the heart
or brain
the brain specifically is referred to as the control centre ..all nerve impulses are send to the brain which stimulates other specific parts of the body
please if l am Blood group B+ can l marry a lady with O- blood group?
structure of a serous membrane
Ziyanda Reply
are you asking?
In anatomy, serous membrane (or serosa) is a smooth tissue membrane consisting of two layers of mesothelium, which secrete serous fluid. The inner layer that covers organs (viscera) in body cavities is called the visceral membrane. A second layer of epithelial cells of the serous membrane, called th
The two layers of serous membranes are named parietal and visceral. Between the two layers is a thin fluid filled space.[2] The fluid is produced by the serous membranes and stays between the two layers to reduce friction between the walls of the cavities and the internal organs when they move with
a continuation from the 1st one:: A second layer of epithelial cells of the serous membrane, called the parietal layer, lines the body wall. Between the two layers is a potential space, mostly empty except for a few milliliters of lubricating serous fluid that is secreted by the two serous membranes
Lubricated secretion of skin is called sebum
what is the greater tronchanter?
the greater trochanter is  femur is a large, irregular, quadrilateral eminence and a is a part of the system of the skeleton
Thanks Jessie...
what is the easiest way to learn labels of Anatomical structures?
Name the two phases of metabolism
Grace Reply
reproduction and growth
how about anabolism and catabolism?
In Simply Anabolism means formation... Catabolism means breakdown
two phases of reproductio?
Anabolism indicates potential & catabolism potential converts to kinetic
Name the most important life process in the human body in terms of anatomy and physiology
Nervous system
Every system is important for body functions
what is the difference between the functions of the adhesion belt and the desmosomes?
Mason Reply
what are the derivatives of the germ layer?
Miriam Reply
Pls explain the atlas of the cervical vertebral column
Ifunanya Reply
why does the material not allow in mri
Simran Reply
what do you mean 'mri'
short for magnetic resonance imaging. "the researchers used MRI to record the brain activity" a medical examination performed using magnetic resonance imaging. "he's having an MRI to determine the extent of the injury" an image obtained by magnetic resonance imaging. "after looking at the MRI, the d
what is the meaning of sutures
Ibrahim Reply
i do not know
immovable joints btn two bones.eg the skull bones
Really,it's true
Sutures are immovable junction between two bones e.g those of the skull
what should I do to get or to know what to do for me to be excellent in the course of anatomy and physiology
Sandra Reply
study harder
Between the heart and the Brain which one is more important to human being... discuss
Faith Reply
well the brain is important for motor skills, the heart is important for involuntary muscle movement supporting body functions. the body can survive without brain involvement, but the body cannot last without the heart
granted the heart is important, but the brain gives the body purpose
the brain is more important
Even though the brain helps the human being to behave normally and purposefully, I think the heart is much more important cos human being cannot live without the heart
change the question
hello guys
it is difficult to select which organ is more important, now you can replace the heart with a mechanical device and the body could still function, and with technology today brain activity can also be replicated. But life would not be the same
there's coordination btn the two..so without any of them no life
the heart
The brain is important to humans.
what is homeostasis
Rebecca Reply
It is the condition when body feel comfortable
Wo feels hungry, thirty due to homeostasis
Is the maintenance of the internal environment of all the body cells for normal growth

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Source:  OpenStax, Anatomy & Physiology. OpenStax CNX. Feb 04, 2016 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11496/1.8
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