Russian Language Blog

Blood and Brains: One more look at anatomy Posted by on Jun 27, 2012 in language

If you read the previous posts about Russian terms for human anatomy, you now know some words related to the biological process of eating, as well as moving around and reproducing. But we haven’t yet covered the most crucial “life-support” functions that keep the body alive — so let’s look at…

Органы кровообращения и дыхания (“Organs of blood-circulation and respiration”)
The hardest-working muscle in the body is without doubt the сердце (“heart”) — оно бьётся примерно сто тысяч раз в сутки (“it beats approximately 100,000 times in a 24-hour period”), which adds up to more than два с половины миллиарда (“2.5 billion”) beats if you live into old age!

All this pumping drives the process of кровообращение through the body’s network of кровеносные сосуды (“blood-carrying vessels”). The names for the different kinds of blood-vessel hardly need translation: an артерия carries кровь (“blood”) away from the heart; a вена flows towards the heart; and a капилляр is the smallest — sometimes so narrow that кровяные клетки (“blood cells”) have to squeeze through друг за другом or гуськом (both can mean “single file”, but гуськом, lit. “goose-wise”, is highly informal, and one wouldn’t normally see it in a biology textbook).

Кровь, by the way, has several derived adjectives with distinct meanings that should not be confused. For example, кровяной refers to blood in medical contexts and sometimes corresponds to “hemo-“; кровный is used with kinship terms like тётя (“aunt”) to signify “related genetically, not by marriage”; and кровавый can mean “bloodstained” or “gory” or simply “oozing the red stuff”, as in “For heaven’s sake, Boris, this is what an American steak is SUPPOSED to look like when it’s cooked PROPERLY!” 😉

Of course, the whole purpose of кровообращение is to distribute кислород (“oxygen”) and питательные вещества (“nutrients”) throughout the body, while getting rid of углекислота (“carbon dioxide”) and выделения (“waste products”). And the exchange of O2 and CO2 between the bloodstream and the лёгкие (“lungs”) is the process known as дыхание. Мы вдыхаем воздух (“we inhale air”) through the mouth or the ноздри (“nostrils”) and it travels down the трахея (“windpipe; trachea”) to each лёгкое, where gas-exchange occurs.

Finally, the activity of the lungs, heart, muscles, and every other part of the body is regulated by the…

Нервная система (“Nervous system”)

Different нервы (“nerves”) conduct electrical impulses in different directions — some nerves управляют деятельностью тела (“direct the activity of the body”), while others получают сигналы от тела (“receive sensations from the body”).

The command-center for the nervous system is, of course, the мозг (“brain”), though the Russian word has more than one translation. Properly speaking, the “brain” inside one’s череп — and particularly the “cerebrum” that we think with — is the головной мозг, while the “spinal cord” is the спинной мозг. And, incidentally, although “bone marrow” has nothing to do with нервы, it’s known as костный мозг in Russian. (Presumably this usage reflects a pre-scientific misunderstanding — some ancient Greek doctors thought that the brain was for cooling off the blood!)

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