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A Ph.d in anatomy asked me this question: Why is the expression "bodily fluids" and not "body fluids"?

I think the term "body fluids" is more correct because it describes the 'type' of fluids just like the term "bodily harm" means the 'type' of harm done TO the body. And since these are both usually law enforcement terms to describe the scene of a crime. You wouldn't say "body harm" you'd say "bodily harm" vs harm to the surroundings. So, to me "body fluids" denotes the type of fluids, vs any other fluid present, like water, alcohol or gasoline, etc. In other words, "bodily" is an adjective descriptor whereas "body" is a definition.

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  • Bodily fluids is an affectation.
    – user95535
    Oct 24, 2014 at 17:15

2 Answers 2

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Patricia T. O’Conner and Stewart Kellermanat, at Grammarphobia, have done the research on this [adjusted & abridged]:

Q ... “bodily fluids.” I keep muttering at the TV screen whenever I hear this pretentious phrase. My gut says it should be “body fluids.” What is your opinion?

A: Both phrases are OK, so use whichever one sounds best to your ear — or to your gut.

The word “bodily” has been used as an adjective since the 1200s, and the noun “body” has been used [as an attributive noun] nearly as long.

The earliest citation in the Oxford English Dictionary for “bodily” used as an adjective is from Cursor Mundi, a Middle English poem written sometime before 1300, which contains another example:

  • Of bodili substance if þu wil witt, Manis saule þat es it.

The earliest Oxford example of “body” used [as an attributive noun] is from King Horn, a Middle English poem written around 1225:

  • Þu art kniȝt … of grete strengþe & fair o bodie lengþe.

Standard dictionaries now list “bodily” in both the adjective and adverb roles.

The adverb usage, which dates from the 14th century, has to do with the body as a physical entity, and is seen in phrases like “they were bodily present” and “thrown bodily from the room.”

As an adjective, however, “bodily” usually concerns the inner workings of the body.

Oxford Dictionaries online gives this example of “bodily” used as an adjective:

  • children learn to control their bodily functions.

As for the phrases “bodily fluids” and “body fluids,” the “bodily” version appears to be older, with examples in Google Books dating from the 1700s.

Here’s an example of “bodily fluids” from Mammuth, or Human Nature Displayed on a Grand Scale, a 1789 travel book by the Scottish writer William Thomson:

  • A revulsion in the bodily fluids, occasioned by sea sickness, or some other cause, often effects the most surprising bodily cures.

And here’s an example of “body fluids” from an 1891 issue of the Journal of the Royal Microscopical Society:

  • The germicidal action of human blood and other body-fluids was effectually removed by heating it for half an hour up to 60 degrees.
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In this context, bodily is a more precise word. A body fluid could also be some kind of fluid you put on your body (think body milk, for instance); a bodily fluid, on the other hand, is a fluid pertaining to your body.

Nevertheless, it is not true that body fluids is not used. According to wikipedia, both expresions are synonymous. And a Google search reveals that both expressions are used more or less the same (354,000 vs 395,000 occurrences).

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  • I'm not sure that your explanation makes that much sense, especially since the two terms are synonomous. By your definition, I might say that "I'm going to take a shower and feel warm body fluids spray onto my body." Or you could "eat my pancakes with maple-ily syrup." And what is "body milk"?? How does the "ily" ending make it better than no suffix at all? Oct 2, 2014 at 15:56
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    @BruceJames Body milk is the same as body lotion, i.e., a moisturising cream for the body (at least to those of us not interested in beauty products—to those who are, I’m sure there’s some difference or other between them). Bodily is an adjective that means “of or concerning the body”. It’s also bodily harm, rather than body harm. There is no such suffix as -ily, it is -ly. Why use an adjective instead of a noun adjunct? Because that’s the established phrase. You could also say brother love, but the established phrase is brotherly love. Oct 2, 2014 at 17:43

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