General English


  • noun a blood vessel taking blood from the heart to the tissues of the body

Origin & History of “artery”

Artery is a direct borrowing from Latin artēria, which in turn came from Greek artēria. this appears to have been based on the root *ar- ‘lift’. A parallel formation is thus aorta ‘main coronary artery’ (16th c.), which comes from Greek aortē, a derivative of aeírein ‘lift’ – again ultimately from the root *ar-. The notion underlying aortē seems to be that the heart was thought of by the ancients as in some sense suspended from it, as if from a strap (Greek aortḗs ‘strap’), so that it was ‘held up’ or ‘raised’ by the aortē (the aorta emerges from the top of the heart). The Greeks, of course, did not know about the circulation of the blood, and since arteries contain no blood after death it was supposed that their function was conveying air. Hence Hippocrates’ application of the term aorta to branches of the windpipe, and the use of artery for ‘windpipe’ in English up until as late as the mid 17th century: ‘(The lungs) expel the air: which through the artery, throat and mouth, makes the voice’, Francis bacon, Sylva sylvarum 1626.