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?


Other posts at of particular interest to orthopedic surgeons:

Giant public works project spawns new surgical specialty.

The spine surgery will help your child breathe.

The human hand. Not really that good for anything.

8 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

  2. When I first became a resident in the bone field My Chairman was Sir Robert Duthie at the University 0f Rochester. Dr. Duthie was from England and was specific about the use of the “a” in Orthopaedic. We attributed this to the English and its relationship the straight child , and the bent tree logo. I have favored it ever since. I know that C M. Evarts MD ( later Chief at Rochester) also favored the “a” included.

    1. Hi Pete,
      I met Professor Duthie one summer in medical school when I did a clerkship at Oxford. The topic of spelling never came up but I would assume that he would prefer the English spelling along with theatre, harmonise, oedema and others that we rebels across the ocean haven’t time for.
      Best wishes,

  3. In a sense, just too paedantic for me. I say, “spell it like it sounds.” Next step: Esperanto! Good show, Dr. Meals!

    1. Hi Stephen,
      On one hand I agree with you about spelling it like it sounds, but how about wound (a cut) and wound (past tense of wind) or wind (a zepher) or wend (to find your way)? Its complicaeted. Best wishes, Roy

    1. Hi Donald,
      Nobody is likely to change their ways: tomAHto tomAYto. That is what makes language interesting.
      Best wishes,

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