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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Anatomists LaunchingNew Body Language

SAO PAULO, Brazil -- It took a Brazilian to invent a word just to describe the space between a woman's breasts.

This was not the product of drunken barroom contemplation in a land famed for its scantily clad carnival queens. The term -- intermammary sulcus -- could pave the way for a new era of communication in the scientific community.

Its creator, Liberato Di Dio, 77, one of the doyens of world anatomy, launched a pet project, a revised world anatomical vocabulary, in Sao Paulo. Members of the International Federation of Associations of Anatomists, or IFAA, have spent eight years rooting complicated and outdated words out of the anatomical dictionary to create a definitive global language for physicians and scientists.

"If you have a cumbersome word, we got rid of it," said Di Dio, secretary-general of the IFAA's federative committee on anatomical terminology. As a result, men and women across the worjld could find themselves deprived of cherished parts of their anatomy.

Men, for instance, will have to make do without their Adam's apple. It has been renamed the laryngeal prominence to reflect the fact that some women have one too.

"There is that Biblical connotation that it was the apple that Eve gave to him and got stuck in his throat," Di Dio said. "We found exceptions, so that should be called Eve's apple. So we decided, let's get rid of this."

While women across the world gain a new area between their breasts, Brazilian women lose their breasts after it was deemed that the Portuguese word, "seio," could lead to confusion with the facial cavities known as paranasal sinuses.

"In Portuguese they call the female breasts seio. Seio is the wrong word. Seio is the cavity that when infected gives you sinusitis," Di Dio said. So henceforth Brazilians should refer to them as "mama," the equivalent of the unglamorous English term, mammary gland.

Although the layman may be bewildered by this new world order, anatomists hope it will clear a swathe through the dense verbal jungle that sometimes prevents scientists from talking to each other. It should lay to rest the quest that has bedeviled the IFAA since its founding in 1903 -- a list of anatomical terms acceptable to everybody.

Frequent earlier attempts all failed, Di Dio said, but he is confident that this time will be different.

In 1989, as outgoing president of the IFAA, he proposed the election of a group of 20 anatomists who have since pored over suggestions from their peers worldwide.

"We went though all the lists that existed, we selected the best words we could, the words that were wrong we corrected, a few that are new had to be added," he said.

Then a preliminary list was sent to member associations for review. Predictably, the decision to eliminate all proper names from the anatomical vocabulary caused howls of protest from Europeans, who had staked a claim to many body parts.

In this Tower of Babel, the place where the small intestine meets the large was called Bahin's valve by the Swiss, Rondelet's valve by the French, Varolius's valve by Italians and Tulp's valve by the Dutch.

"It is not a valve, first of all," Di Dio thundered, explaining that the offending orifice was discovered at a time when fledgling anatomists had only cadavers to study. Surgeons this century discovered that in a live human the opening acts like a nipple -- hence its new name: ileal papilla.

After tweaking close to 7,000 words, the federative committee held a final meeting in Sao Paulo in late August to iron out last-minute glitches, culminating in the presentation of the new anatomical terminology.

"We finally were able to convince everybody that we should get a simplified, uniform, updated list of terms in order to be accepted by everybody," Di Dio said.