“Let us have the tongs and the bones.”

It may have started with primitive man clacking a couple of charred mastodon rib bones together. He smiled. Clack-clack. Fellow cave dwellers looked up. Then with a flip of the wrist, clackity-clackity-clack. Music was born.

In several forms, “playing the bones” has continued to the present time. Various museums display pairs of ancient Egyptian bone clappers in the shape of forearms and hands. I have never seen two pairs of these displayed together, so I am uncertain whether the clappers were played with a set in each hand, like castanets and finger cymbals, or if a complete set was a single pair and held in just one hand, like spoons.

Shakespeare knew of the art. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Bottom commands, “I have a reasonable good ear in music; let us have the tongs and the bones.”

William Sidney Mount, well-known for his depictions of everyday life, painted The Bone Player in 1856. A New York art agent commissioned the painting along with The Banjo Player in order to make lithographs from them to sell in Europe.

Illustrator Henry Holiday penned a number of cartoons to illustrate Lewis Carrol’s The Hunting of the Snark, published in 1876. This drawing accompanies the verse that follows and are from Fit the Seventh, The Banker’s Fate:

Down he sank in a chair—ran his hands through his hair— and chanted in mimsiest tones. Words whose utter inanity proved his insanity, while he rattled a couple of bones.

Interest continues today. Here is an example of a virtuoso on YouTube playing the bones; and at Amazon you can purchase your own set made of beechwood, ebony, rosewood, or maple. If you want the osseous originals, however, just ask for a doggie bag after you have feasted on barbecued spare ribs. Then clack away as your ancestors did 40,000 years ago.

Is it orthopedic or orthopaedic?

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 www.aboutbone.com 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.

Bone Broth: My Quest for the Best

To flavor soups and sauces, many cooks traditionally use broth derived from simmered bones of fish, fowl, or four-footed critters. In recent years, bone-broth bars have appeared and offer patrons a non-caffeinated, nutritious alternative to coffee or tea. In the more health-conscious of these establishments, the proprietors tout these elixirs for their filling, cleansing, and de-toxing capabilities.

I wanted to decide whether a daily cup of bone broth should be part of my annual January resolution for a healthy life. On the internet, I found four broth-serving establishments within a bike-friendly five-mile radius of home. Within the same range there were three Vietnamese cafes that serve pho, a traditional soup of spiced bone broth, rice noodles, and meat. Off I went.

I started at a broth “bar” that was an eight-foot square kiosk in a country mart’s passageway. The cheerful teenage attendant offered me a sample, which she poured straight from a refrigerated bottle. I was her only customer, so we chatted while I sipped. With my game face on, I thought, “Definitely don’t drink this stuff cold.” She touted broth’s virtues, which on the business’s website include increased energy, sharpened focus, optimization of vital functions, and body fat reduction.  She also explained how the owner obtained the bones and prepared the broth. Having picked her brain, I felt it only decent to buy a pint bottle of beef broth. She heated several ounces on a hotplate but had to go to a coffee shop down the way to get a paper cup. I took the rest home for my wife to taste. We shared our doubts about the long-term viability of this particular bone broth business.

A week later I decided to have pho for lunch preceded by visits to two bone broth bars and followed by a stop at another. The first was a store large enough to walk into. It had both chicken and beef bone broths that were already hot. There were also frozen packets for take-home. Again, I was the only customer, and the clerk was helpful although mistaken in her belief that broth contains collagen. In fact, bone is collagen-rich, but heating it degrades the collagen into gelatin. Then when swallowed, digestive enzymes break gelatin into its constituent amino acids before they are absorbed. It is beyond belief that our bodies would then reassemble these molecules into gelatin, much less collagen. (Consider this analogy: bald men eating hair.) This store’s website, in addition to repeating the kiosk’s claims, indicates that “collagen and gelatin found in bone broth build and help repair the GI tract” and are also good for immune support and joint pain relief. The vegetable soups I sampled tasted better than the broths, which I considered bland and certainly not a substitute for coffee. Maybe their bone broth blendies (hot) and collagen smoothies (cold) would be better, but I had miles to go.

The next stop was a burger café, which also had frozen whole chickens, quarts of refrigerated broth, and two urns of hot broth: traditional (beef/pork) and poultry (duck/chicken/turkey). The latter was as bland and unappealing as my previous tastings. The traditional blend was delicious. It was if I was gnawing the last crispy bits of steak off a T-bone. The cook explained that he roasted the bones for about an hour before simmering them for 48 more. Condiments enhanced the pleasure. My favorite was a stirred-in spoonful of parsley-garlic pesto. 

Lunch time! I found a counter seat at a bustling hole-in-the-wall Vietnamese café. The meatball pho came in a huge bowl with cilantro, onion, and bean sprouts garnishing the rice noodles and broth. Good, and certainly filling, but since all the ingredients complicated my quest for tasting bone broth, I decided to pass on the other nearby Vietnamese eateries that day.  

I next cycled to a health food café. In addition to “Classic Chicken or Beef Broth” I could order either one with added ingredients such as turmeric, ghee, schizandra berry, cabbage, and jalapeno to produce “Anti-Inflammatory Broth,” “Butter Broth,” “Immunity Broth,” “Gut Broth,” or “Skinny Broth.” They all cost $10-$12 for 12 ounces, and for $2 more, I could “add collagen with 10 grams of protein.”

While sipping my Classic Beef, I browsed the foyer bookshelf and flipped through Dr. Kellyann’s Bone Broth Diet, which claimed I could lose up to 15 pounds,  4 inches (didn’t say from where), and my  wrinkles in 21 days. Despite those remarkable claims on the cover, inside Dr. Kellyann did note that boiling bone converts collagen to gelatin. She went on, however, to extol the purported health benefits of gelatin. Like many other advocates, she cherry-picked research results that supported her claims while ignoring the abundance of literature that has found no significant benefits of bone broth over eating a generally healthy diet. Also, I am typically wary of products claiming to cleanse and detox. How did these health trendistas let themselves get soiled and toxed in the first place?

Now at the end of my bone broth adventure, I had an uneasy feeling, perhaps caused by sudden weight loss or immunity gain. I knew for sure, however, that a whole class of taste buds had gone unstimulated all day. Before hopping back on my bike and heading to the office, I stopped at Burger King for a soothing Oreo milkshake.

“The spine surgery will help your child breathe.”

scoliosis drawingIn the 1950s, about the same time that John Charnley was perfecting total hip replacement surgery in England (see previous blog posts), American Paul Harrington addressed a vexing spine problem. To understand the problem, consider that a snake slithers along by curving its spine repeatedly from side to side. By comparison, a human’s spine is not as flexible. It can bend a little from left to right but is normally straight when its owner stands tall. If a human spine develops a curve to the side that does not go away when standing at attention, the bend is unbalanced and tends to progress. Untreated, the spine can collapse to the side and cause shortened stature, an unsightly humpback, and in some conditions even compression of the heart and lungs inside a twisted ribcage. A compromised life ensues. Read more

Holiday Gift Guide for Frugal Bone Lovers

For those hard-to-please people on your holiday shopping list, surprise them with a bone-related gift. The options are vast, but for inclusion here, my 14 recommendations had to meet these criteria:

  1. no real bone
  2. no skull motifs
  3. nothing blatantly Halloween or goth
  4. nothing risque (Yes, there are glow-in-the-dark undergarments.)
  5. nothing over $9.99 (The final and best one is free.)

Happy gifting. Also, forward this post to those who will be shopping for you with a “hint, hint.”

By the way, I have no financial interest in any of the items.

Slide8This paper punch comes in two sizes, 5/8″ for $5.95 and 1″ for $7.95.

Great for personalizing documents, checks, envelopes, restaurant menus.

The cut-outs will appeal to scrapbookers.

Continue shopping ……

Read more

It Takes a Turkey to Call a Turkey

18-11-13 turkey caller+It is currently mid-season for turkey hunting in California. The smart toms by this time have become jaded to the previously persuasive squawks and clucks generated by commercially available box,  diaphragm, and rattle callers. Enterprising hunters therefore may turn to a homemade device that Native Americans began using at least 6500 years ago–the wing bone turkey caller. Read more

Skulls in Fine Art

Slide2Halloween is the time of year that unrepentant boneheads such as myself can revel in ubiquitous displays and celebrations involving


Admittedly, some presentations are schlocky beyond our wildest nightmares, and yet few are frightful. Skeletons, skulls, mummies, gravestones, cobwebs, and ghouls are more or less amusing. This was not originally the case, particularly for skulls. Read more

Dry Bones: How They Got That Way

museum natural history parisNaturally curious, you may have asked yourself how bones get from their living condition–muscle-covered, cartilage-capped, and fat-filled–to the inert, dry, aesthetically pleasing material so widely exhibited and valued. If you are not curious about how this transition takes place, you may wish to skip this post. Read more

Be careful what you ask for, paleontology style

In the 1930s, paleontologist Gustav von Koenigswald was looking for possible human ancestral fossils on the Indonesian island of Java. He was led there because forty years before, another paleontologist, Eugene Dubois, had found a tooth, thighbone, and skull cap of what he claimed to be the missing link between apes and humans. Whereas the colonial government had assigned convicts to help Dubois excavate the remains of what was to become known as Java Man, von Koenigswald had to hire local natives to help dig.

Slide2The photograph shows several rather intact skulls on von Koenigswald’s desk–reconstructions based on limited fragments that his team had turned up. Unfortunately too late, von Koenigswald discovered that the recovered fossil pieces were more fragmented than they had to be. Read more

The Human Hand, Not Really That Good for Anything

Long ago primitive sharks had ridges running down their sides from gill to tail. Later, muscles grew into the folds, and eventually the central portion of each ridge receded while the ends enlarged to form fins both fore and aft. All was well.

Slide5Then one day several hundred million years ago, a fish was swimming blissfully in a shallow pool. The tide went out and much to the fish’s surprise, she could use her five-rayed fins to move around a bit on the rocky bottom. The tide came in and she swam away, never to give this event another thought. The world, however, was forever changed. Read more