This week’s installment of Arnold’s Hip Saga centered on Wednesday’s needle aspiration (term explained here), after weeks of hitches in getting the procedure set up. The point is to insert a needle into the hip joint, to extract — aspirate — fluid from the joint, and then to culture the synovial fluid to find out if there’s any infection in it (or whether it’s sterile, as it’s supposed to be). First, an etymological note on synovial (which apparently doesn’t have the etymology I thought it did), and then a brief encouraging report on Wednesday’s procedure.

OED2 has this etymological note on synovia, the (mass) noun for which synovial is the adjective:

< modern Latin sinovia, synovia, also synophia , an invention, probably arbitrarily formed, of Paracelsus (died 1541), applied by him to the nutritive fluid peculiar to the several parts of the body, and also to the gout …, but limited by later physicians to the fluid of the joints.

In mod. dicts. it is derived < Greek σύν syn- prefix + ᾠόν, Latin ōvum egg, on account of the resemblance of synovia to the white of egg. This is without foundation, and conflicts with Paracelsus’s description of synovia as reddish, dark red, grey, etc., according to the part.

Pity; ‘with egg’ looked pretty straightforward, and now we’re left with an inexplicable fancy of Paracelsus’s.


a. Physiol. The viscid albuminous fluid secreted in the interior of the joints, and in the sheaths of the tendons, and serving to lubricate them; also called joint-oil or joint-water. [1650 trans. from Latin; then from 1693 on]

†b. Pathol. A morbid condition or discharge of this fluid. Obs. [cites from 1661, 1758, 1766; this is the ‘gout’ sense]

On the procedure, which I’d dreaded after my unfortunate experience with the MRI. I did have to lie flat on my back, but the radiologist provided a pillow to elevate my right knee, so I wasn’t in unbearable pain. What I wrote on Facebook:

… needle aspiration went off smoothly and easily this morning, and with *much* less pain than I’d feared. In fact, when the radiologist injected a pile of Novocaine deep into my hip (so that the needle would be manageable for me), it cut off the pain referred from my hip down my leg and made me considerably *more* comfortable. Doc knew the details of the case, asked useful questions clearly, and kept up a stream of easy small talk during the prep.

Today has been an especially bad day for that referred pain, even with Vicodin. I recall the Novocaine wistfully.

Test results back this coming week. And surgery set for November 14th, or if that turns out to be too soon, the 20th.

5 Responses to “synovial”

  1. Bob Richmond Says:

    Well, I’ve been practicing medicine for around 50 years, with a good bit of interest in medical words, and I see that everything I thought I knew about “synovia” was wrong. Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim (who rechristened himself “next to Celsus”) coined quite a number of words that endured.

    In present-day medical usage (in the US anyway) the fluid in the joint is called “synovial fluid” and the lining membrane of the joint is called “synovium”. As a pathologist I’ve seen hundreds of specimens of both, with various abnormalities, and I see Isigned them out all historically wrong.

    If the “egg white” etymology were correct, then the word would appear to be formed from Greek syn- and Latin ovum, since there is no v in Attic Greek, and would be one of those bastard Greco-Latin coinages purists inveigh against. I reflect on this injunction every time I drive my autokinete to work, or get my hemospherin checked. (These are actual modern Greek Katharevousa words.)

    The word “Novocaine” is archaic, since procaine (trade name Novocaine) went out of use as a local anesthetic about 60 years ago. The usual local anesthetic today is lidocaine (trade name Xylocaine) – there are several others but that’s the most common one – but neither word has replaced “Novocaine” in lay usage.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      Just to make things clear: etymology is fascinating, but it in no way determines how words should be used now. (And that includes the mixing of different etymological strands, as in “automobile” and “hemoglobin”.)

      As for Novocaine, I reported it that way because that’s the way the radiologist used it — no doubt as a bow to lay usage. (Better to use terminology that the patients will understand than to be technically correct, unless there is some substantive issue in the matter.)

  2. the ridger Says:

    I suspect “Novocaine” is not so much archaic as generic.

  3. Bob Richmond Says:

    I looked this up – the generic name is procaine, while Novocaine (or Novocain) was a trade name. The drug is no longer available in the USA at all. Procaine replaced cocaine as a local anesthetic more than a century ago, and that was how the name originated. Interesting how the morpheme boundary (originally coca.ine, and sometimes spelled cocaïne) migrated. See

  4. No PMNs seen « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] final lab report on the synovial fluid that was aspirated on October 24th, which came in during the night, was […]

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