Whenever you see an anatomical drawing, like the one below, you’re looking at the anatomic position. This standard position (standing straight, looking forward, arms at your side, and facing forward) keeps everyone on the same page when you’re talking anatomy and physiology. Keep this list handy of anatomic descriptive terms that appear regularly in anatomy text:

  • Anterior: Front, or toward the front

  • Posterior: Back, or toward the back

  • Dorsal: Back, or toward the back (think of a whale’s dorsal fin)

  • Ventral: Front, or toward the front (think of an air vent)

  • Lateral: On the side, or toward the side

  • Medial/median: Middle, or toward the middle

  • Proximal: Nearer to the point of attachment (such as the armpit)

  • Distal: Farther from the point of attachment

  • Superior: Situated above, or higher than, another body part

  • Inferior: Situated below, or lower than, another body part

  • Peripheral: Away from the center

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