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Prostate. 2009 Feb 1;69(2):208-13. doi: 10.1002/pros.20871.

History of the term prostate.

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Institute for the History of Medicine and Medical Ethics, University of Cologne, Cologne, Germany.



We comprehensively review the history of the word "prostate" and related terms from 600 BC to the present.


Both medical and non-medical ancient texts were searched to clarify the term's etymology and use. Anatomy textbooks of the 16th through the 18th century were analyzed to identify descriptions, illustrations and various expressions used by contemporary authors to designate the prostate.


In ancient Greek the masculine term "prostat─ôs" meant "president" and was exclusively used in a non-medical sense. It was not until the Renaissance that anatomists discovered the organ naming it "glandulous body." In 1600 the French physician du Laurens introduced the metaphoric denomination "prostatae." However he and his contemporaries misinterpreted the history of the organ and the term, choose the wrong gender when translating it into Latin, and believed that it designated a double organ. Only in the 1800s was this anatomical error corrected while the grammatical one lived on.


The history of the term "prostate" is a prime example of the difficulties with which the development of a precise urologic terminology had to struggle. At the same time this retrospective view provides a stimulus to avoid linguistic ambiguity in the future.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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