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I'm having trouble with the adjective "dorsal", as different authorities have seemingly conflicting opinions.

Tortora and Derrickson write in Principles of Anatomy and Physiology that the adjective for things pertaining to the upper surface of the foot is dorsal. They also claim:

Posterior (dorsal): Nearer to or at the back of the body. [...] The terms posterior and dorsal mean the same thing in humans

Merriam-Webster writes:

  1. relating to or situated near or on the back especially of an animal or of one of its parts
  2. situated out of or directed away from the axis

Wiktionary writes:

  1. (anatomy) With respect to, or concerning the side in which the backbone is located, or the analogous side of an invertebrate.
  2. An anatomical term referring to the top surface of either foot and/or hand.

What does the word mean?

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closed as general reference by Mitch, Daniel, Kit Z. Fox, kiamlaluno, Robusto Aug 25 '11 at 18:08

This question is too basic; it can be definitively and permanently answered by a single link to a standard internet reference source designed specifically to find that type of information.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

What do you mean "What do you mean?" ? Are you asking which of those two definitions is correct (where they differ)? Or are you asking for a new complete definition? Have you checked an online medical dictionary since it seems to be a technical term specific to biology? – Mitch Aug 25 '11 at 17:33
@Mitch: There seems to be a conflict among the definitions. I did quote a medical reference work. – user4727 Aug 25 '11 at 17:34
(sorry, I overlooked the medical reference) I don't see any conflict. Is the problem with the 'foot' part? After checking all my medical dictionaries, they all agree in -not- mentioning the hand or foot explicitly. – Mitch Aug 25 '11 at 20:51

I don't see the conflict here... there are two primary anatomical meanings of "dorsal". The less-common usage is that it can refer to the back of your hand or the top of your foot (the 'unused' side, if you will; or the "back side" of it, which is where the usage comes from); the more-common usage is that it refers to the body surface closest to your spine. (For humans, the back; for fish, the top. A fish's "dorsal fin" is the one on its top.)

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Come to that, the top of your foot is really the only back it's got. – Daniel Aug 25 '11 at 17:53

Dorsum is the Latin word for back. Dorsal, usually used of the anatomy of an animal or human, is the English adjectival form, incidentally more common than the noun dorsum. I've heard it used mostly in conjunction with the word fin, as in the dorsal fin of a fish.

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The dorsal part of [all of you] is your back or spine. This is more understandable if you imagine a shark - the big triangular fin at the top, coming out the spine, is the dorsal fin - it's the opposite side from the belly. Now imagine a cow or a dog and the spine is still the top. People aren't lined up like that, but the name remains.

Now with that in mind, the dorsal part of [your foot] is the top of your foot. That's not the dorsal part of you, but of your foot. For your hand it's even tougher to have a natural top, but there is a surface of your hand that's analagous to the top of your foot, and that's called the dorsal. Some people will use the phrase "back of my hand" to refer to that surface, and it's also what's referred to in a "backhand" tennis shot.

Posterior just means back. The opposite is anterior.

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