Forensic scientists collect DNA from cast-off bits of people such as skin cells, blood, and hair. In many magical traditions, such as Voudoun, bits of a person can be used to direct a spell - blood, nail clippings, saliva, etc.

Is there a term that covers "all the bits and pieces that make up a person or animal"? The context is mythology, so an obsolete or archaic word would fit in just fine.

Detritus is the closest I've come up with, but I'm not quite happy with it. I don't necessarily mean "bits which have been cast off," but really all the elements of an animal. A word or phrase which means "fur, skin, feathers, and/or bone" would be about right. "Organic matter" has the right technical meaning, but it's, well, too technical.

Clarification: I don't actually need a single word, a short phrase would be fine. There doesn't seem to be a tag for "word-requests" alone.

  • How about "biological matter"?
    – Robusto
    Commented Feb 24, 2012 at 3:17
  • Wow, great responses all around! More than I expected. Thank you all for the contributions.
    – user9383
    Commented Feb 24, 2012 at 6:41
  • Re "There doesn't seem to be a tag for "word-requests" alone", word-requests is registered as a synonym of single-word-requests and converts to it automatically. Commented Feb 24, 2012 at 7:02
  • @jwpat7: Yeah, that's exactly what happened. Cool, then I won't get jumped on for using a tag loosely? I've found some SE groups to be... prickly.
    – user9383
    Commented Feb 24, 2012 at 7:06
  • There are people voting to close single-word-requests that don't include explanation of context or rationale for needing a single word, and for various other reasons not mentioned in faq but discussed in English Language & Usage Meta. If a phrase is ok too, use phrase-requests tag too. Commented Feb 24, 2012 at 16:46

7 Answers 7


The words tissue or flesh seem to me nearly general enough for much of "the bits and pieces that make up a person or animal", but flesh typically does not connote fur, hair, feathers, bone; and in dictionary definitions, tissue seems overly specific:

Biology - an aggregate of similar cells and cell products forming a definite kind of structural material with a specific function, in a multicellular organism.

Some other terms to consider:

  • dander - "Hair follicles and dead skin shed from mammals."
  • stuff of life - flesh and other bits of life - (note, not staff of life, which is bread)
  • corpus - "the body of a person or animal, especially when dead" (while corpse specifically refers to a dead body, a corpus may be alive)
  • mortal coil - "The physical body of man (containing the spirit inside) ... "what Fletcher calls the ‘case of flesh’""

A minor problem with that last is that nearly any use of it must be overshadowed by Shakespeare's

For in that sleep of death, what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause.

  • 1
    Wow, several good answers! "Flesh" is close, it has a nice Jung-ian ring to it. I really like "corpus" too, though it implies (to me, anyway), a whole body, whereas (putting a really fine hair on it), I'm looking for parts of a body.
    – user9383
    Commented Feb 24, 2012 at 6:49
  • I'm going with "corpus." Thank you!
    – user9383
    Commented Feb 24, 2012 at 7:09
  • You could go with a string of these, e.g.: "corpus, flesh, nails and dander..."
    – J.R.
    Commented Feb 24, 2012 at 10:11

Constituents might fit the bill.


Genomic is the adjective derived from genome. Biologically speaking, it fits the bill, although it may lack the archaic overtones you seek.

  • Yeah, that's a bit technical-sounding, as is "biological matter". You are quite right, of course; it striking that the powers and processes of genomics mirrors ancient superstition so closely.
    – user9383
    Commented Feb 24, 2012 at 6:43

Maybe somatic ("of the body") would work?

  • The first thing that that word brings to mind is "psycho-somatic," which is unfortunate. Your link brought me to "corporal," though, which is very close to what I had in mind. The noun form, "somato" has a nice ring to it.
    – user9383
    Commented Feb 24, 2012 at 6:47

I think "remains" or "mortal remains" hit the target.


I think OP was on the right track with detritus. Here are 3510 results in Google Books for "biodetritus" (plus another 192 for "bio-detritus").

Looking at how the word is used here, it's obviously not restricted to material shed during normal life. But equally, it's not restricted to people and/or higher animals either. To nail that, OP would need some appropriate qualifying term such as forensic biodetritus, or human biodetritus.

I don't suppose there would be a term also covering the relevant material for a voodoo witch doctor to cast a hex on, say, somebody's dog. OP would probably need to refer to that as the subject's biodetritus, having established by context exactly who/what the subject means.


The technical term (with the least specialization is


which has a slightly clincal feel to it. An even more technically technical term is


There doesn't seem to be any enclosing concept name (hypernym) for the concept you're looking for: nail clippings, hair, blood, menstrual blood, ear wax that are associated with magical practices. No self-respecting voodoo priest says 'go fetch me a specimen', they say 'go fetch me some hair or nail clippings or something like that...yes, yes, ear wax will do'.

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