Terminology

The word "goiter" (or goitre in Europe) derives from the Latin gutter, but the meaning has shifted from "throat" or "neck" to mean specifically an enlarged thyroid gland. An ancient Greek synonym was bronchocele, a term actually used to describe any enlargement in the neck, although it meant literally a swelling or an outpouching of the trachea. Over time this term also came to mean an enlarged thyroid (e.g., the English "bronchocele" of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries). Modern synonyms are the Spanish bocio (from Latin, botium), the Italian gozzo, and the German Kropf. The ancient Latin word struma was probably originally used to describe inflamed lymph nodes in the neck, most likely tuberculous, but was later used to denote the normal thyroid gland, and is still so used although it is almost obsolete.

Confusion over names is understandable, as the thyroid gland itself was unknown until the sixteenth century. Leonardo da Vinci may have drawn the thyroid about the year 1500, but the drawing was not published until much later. Andreas Vesa-lius did note "laryngeal glands" in 1543, but not in humans. Nevertheless, by the end of the sixteenth century, Vesalius's contemporaries and successors had clearly identified the human thyroid gland as a discrete structure: Bartolomeo Eustachi in 1552, Realdo Colombo in 1558, and Giulio Casserio in 1600. In 1619, Hieronymus Fabricius ab Aquapen-dente realized that goiter arises from an enlargement of this gland, and in 1656 Thomas Wharfton named the gland by virtue of its proximity to the thyroid ("shield-shaped") cartilage.

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