The word orthopedic was coined in 1741 by Nicolas Andry, a French physician who wrote the first book on the topic. The book’s title was Orthopédie. Ortho- is Greek for straight or correct, as in orthodoxy (correct belief) and orthodontics (straight teeth).

The pédie is also Greek and stems from child. In his book, Andry described how families and physicians could prevent and correct skeletal deformities in children. Of course, the means were entirely non-surgical because it would be another 100 years before general anesthesia and the concept of elective surgery came about. The graphic that Andry chose for the frontspiece of his book to illustrate his concept of straightening a child remains iconic.

In his 1828 monumental treatise, An American Dictionary of the English Language, Noah Webster simplified the spelling of Old World entries including colour, programme, cheque, and encyclopaedia. He probably would have also objected to aeroplane, had it been around then. Despite the lexicographer’s best efforts, we still have two spellings for bone surgery:  orthopedic and orthopaedic.

Some stuffed shirts are reluctant to give up that “a” in orthopaedic because they say that pedo also means foot. These purists insist that orthopaedic means straight children, which was Andry’s intent, whereas orthopedic might mean just straight feet.  Somehow, American paediatricians long ago became pediatricians without apparent loss of professional standing.

To my mind, Wikipedia brings the debate to an end.  It says that pedo- relates to 1) children, 2) feet, 3) soil, and 4) flatulence. Or should it be flaetulence?


If you have a photo of a bone or a bone-made object, Please send it to me. The Same goes for ideas for future posts. Eclectic is always good. For instance, I saw this License plate frame on the way to work this morning. What does it mean? Bones are everywhere once you start looking. I can’t stop! happy hunting!

2 thoughts on “Is it orthopedic or orthopaedic?

  1. Roy, love being a doc who straightens children, never came to mind that we were also straightening feet…The AOFAS should jump on this. Thanks again, PD

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