The word "body" is problematic when writing about the brain. Look at these two sentences:

  1. "The brain sends signals to the body."
  2. "The brain is an organ in the body."

The first sentence considers the body to be the brain's container, which is reasonable when writing about (say) neuroscience. The second considers the brain as a body part, which of course it is like any other organ.

What is a good way to distinguish these two "body" concepts in writing? You can't call them both "the body" because sometimes both meanings are needed within the same idea. Example:

"Your brain and your body are intertwined because, of course, your brain is part of your body."

Long phrases like "the body including the brain" don't work well. I also thought about "your body" vs. "your whole body," and defining these terms up front, but then any excerpt (sans definition) may be unclear. Maybe "your anatomical body"?

Does the English language have a word for "the body absent the brain"? And if it does, would readers know & understand it?

Thanks for any tips.

  • This is off-topic here, but I believe it's a valid single word request on the English site. Sending it there. Jul 12, 2015 at 21:38
  • 1
    I don't understand your problem. An automobile motor powers the automobile, but it is also a part of the automobile.
    – Hot Licks
    Jul 12, 2015 at 21:48
  • Mind, body, and soul, which is to say 'brain, consciousness, and body', are a composite of a larger organism, an organ being a composite. The Merriam Webster dictionary defines body: merriam-webster.com/dictionary/body ...a person's or animal's whole physical self So, body is actually appropriate. Confusion comes from not being accurate in the original question ... "The brain sends signals to the body." ...the brain actually sends signals through the body, which includes the brain itself. The brain sends signals to the nervous system, etc. Body alone would be fine. Jul 12, 2015 at 22:47
  • Well, even in the first sentence, "the body" could be understood as referring to the entire body, including the brain. The brain's individual parts certainly send signals to different parts of the brain. Also, just to clarify, you want two single words: one for "the body including the brain," and another single word for "the body absent the brain," right?
    – herisson
    Jul 12, 2015 at 23:43
  • @sumelic correct, that's what I'm looking for. Two words would be OK rather than one.
    – DanB
    Jul 13, 2015 at 1:37

5 Answers 5


I would be inclined to simply change the first sentence

The brain sends signals to the rest of the body

There are lots of words that have multiple definitions depending on context. The question is, is it clear which you mean from the context, or is there potential ambiguity?

I doubt think even the most rigorous biologist would find fault with "the brain sends messages to the body". Yes, the brain is part of the body, but we routinely talk about supersets and subsets like that in a single sentence. "The president gave a speech to the American people." Isn't the president an American person too? "The windows let light into the house." Aren't the windows part of the house? Etc.

If there is some point in what you are writing where it might be ambiguous whether you are using "body" to mean "the body including the brain" or "excluding the brain", then yes, you need to spell it out. I am not aware of any commonly used word or phrase that clearly expresses either idea.

If in this book or article you ALWAYS use "body" to mean, excluding the brain, then I think the simple thing to do is at the beginning to specify that when you use the word "body", this is what you mean. Similarly if you always use "body" to mean, including the brain.

If you go back and forth, then if the issue only comes up on rare occasions, I'd just use phrase like "the body including the brain".

If this is something that comes up repeatedly in your writing, than you will need to make up some words or phrases and explicitly define them. The first suggestion that comes to my mind is to say that by "body" you mean "excluding the brain", and when you mean both, write "brain/body".

It's very common in technical writing to take a word with a common meaning and give it a more precise definition. You simply have to make clear that you are using such a definition. Technical articles often include statements like, "In this article, I use the word 'vacuum' to mean a region with a pressure of less than 2.5 psi" and that sort of thing. For exactly the reason you bring up: the alternative is to write the same long description every time you want to express this idea.


Gotta get more specific if you are trying to get all sciencey with it. Need to say something like, "The brain sends signals to the body. It is the main organ in the Central Nervous System."

I don't know if that works for you but instead of saying something is "an organ in the body" you can always find a more specific way to go when speaking of bodily systems and parts.



And here's why I think so. An organism may be defined as:

  • a form of life composed of mutually interdependent parts that maintain various vital processes.

...and a quick internet search, or thumbing through an encyclopedia or dictionary, one may find a similar definition. And I won't link as links depreciate.

Since the question seeks to determine a specific container for a collection of processes, which as a whole make a life form, I would like calling the whole an organism as the question as stated.


Imagine replacing "the brain" with any other part of the body: "The hand is controlled by the body." "The liver is an organ in the body." "The foot sends signals to the brain." (Yes, it's the nerves, but still).

None of these are "problematic" or confusing.

Likewise, there is absolutely nothing problematic about the term "the brain" when writing about its relationship with the body. That is the proper scientific term for the organ. "The brain" is part of the system which is "the body," and any time it "sends a signal" to the body, that transfer of information necessarily includes signals (communication, reflection and interpretation) within the brain on its way to and from communications with the rest of the body. So there is no need to make clear-cut distinctions that don't exist in actual fact, for the sake of improving comprehension of a relationship or concept no one has difficulty understanding.

If you find it absolutely necessary to distinguish more clearly between the brain and the body, you could replace "the body" with "the rest of the body." Or, "the brain" with "the Central Nervous System" (CNS) (This allows you to leave out any mind/brain messiness, too).

The CNS does include the spine, though, of course. So be sure to keep that in mind if you do choose to use it. It's appropriate in, "The CNS sends signals to the body." But it's inappropriate to replace "the brain" with "the CNS" in other sentences: "The blood-brain barrier stops many foreign substances, including what could be beneficial medications, from passing into the Central Nervous System." (Because the blood-brain barrier separates the brain's blood from the spine's fluids).

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