Published 3/1/2018
Nikolaos Christodoulou MD, PhD

Which is Correct: OrthopEdics or OrthopAEdics?

It's time to establish a universally acceptable term
After many years of debate, the question of which term, orthopEdics or orthopAEdics, is correct remains unanswered.

The well-known English term OrthopAEdics, derived from the French term "Orthopédie," originated in 1741 by Nikolas Andry. It refers to the prevention of deformities in children, based on the Greek words "ορθός/orthos" (straight) and "paidion" or "paedion" (child).

ΟrthopEdics (ΟρθοπEδική in Greek) is more inclusive of all age groups. Its roots are less well known, both to American orthope(ae)dic surgeons, and also, unfortunately, also to many modern Greek orthopedic surgeons. ΟrthopEdics is derived from the Αncient Greek word ορθός (straight) and the ancient Greek verbs πEδώ/pEd-o (prevent a distortion, hold strongly and steady) and ορθοπoδώ/orthopodo (raising someone upright).

The term ορθοπEδικός/orthopEdic-os was used in Greece in the early of 1900s to characterize doctors who attempted to raise upright bedridden patients using splints (πέδ-ες/pEd-es in Ancient Greek) and im-ped-es, (εμπ-πόδ-ια in Greek) in limbs and spine. These verbs are derived from the ancient Greek roots "πεδ"/ped and "ποδ"/pod). The Ancient Greek verb πεδώ/pedο is found in the writings of Homer, the Αncient Greek poet and author of Iliad and Odyssey. Ιn Iliad's N435, the poet writes: «πέδησε δε φαίδιμα γυία/pedisse de faίdima gyia» (he bound the brilliant members/limbs). Other related words in Ancient Greek are "`Oρθό-πους/ortho-pous", "`Ορθο-ποδ-ητώ/ortho-pod-ito", "΄Ορθο-ποδ-ίζω/ortho-po(e)dizo", "πεδ-αίρω/ped-airo, "πέδ-η/ped-i" (Bind, cuff) and "εμ-πόδ-ιον/em-po(e)d-ion" (impede), "im-ped-io" in Latin.

Why do we consider the term orthopAEdics, derived from Andry's term "Orthopédie," to be the self-evidently correct term? Why is the more inclusive ορθοπEδικός/orthopΕdics with an "E," considered incorrect? Up until 2000, the Greek orthopE(AE)dic society EEXOT used the term "ορθοπΕδική/orthopEdics exclusively, but changed it to "ορθοπΑΙδική/orthopAEdics" to be in accordance with the AAOS.

The writing/spelling of orthopedics with an "E" is the only definitive solution to a problem that has caused great confusion for many decades, especially in English-speaking countries.

Consider the following facts in support of orthopedics with an "E":

  • It is the main spelling in most languages in the world. (Latin and many European languages in countries including France, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Russia, Belarus, Hungary, Bulgaria, Norway, Netherlands, Sweden, Finland, Romania, Croatia, Serbia, Latvia, Ukraine, Poland, Lithuania, Catalonia, Philippines, Esperanto, etc.)
  • It is the spelling most used in modern electronic communication.
  • It is visually similar to the initial term "Orthopédie" of Andry's book for children.
  • It is similar to the ancient Greek roots "orthos" and "pedo" that express the im-pEd-ing and the correction of deformities in all patients, not only in children.
  • We are not "paed-ics." It would be "childlike" or "childish" for us to continue OrthopAEdics with "AE."

Nikolaos Christodoulou, MD, PhD, is chairman of the OrthopEdic department, Athens Medical Group/Iatriko Psychikou, Athens, Greece.

Christodoulou N. OrthopEdics, not OrthopAEdics: If it all Greek to you, let a Greek explain it. BAOJ Ortho, 2017;2:2,2:013. https://bioaccent.org/orthopaedics/orthopaedics13.pdf