n. pl. ar·ter·ies
1. Anatomy Any of the muscular elastic tubes that form a branching system and that carry blood away from the heart to the cells, tissues, and organs of the body.
2. A major route of transportation into which local routes flow: Traffic was heavy on the central artery.
[Middle English arterie, from Latin artēria, from Greek artēriā, windpipe, artery; see wer-1 in the Appendix of Indo-European roots.]
Word History: The changed meaning of the word artery provides a glimpse into the history of medical science. The word is derived from the ancient Greek artēriā, a word originally applied to any of the vessels that emanated from the chest cavity, including arteries, veins, and the bronchial tubes. The difference in the functions of these vessels was not yet known; because they were all empty in cadavers, early anatomists supposed they all carried air. As medical knowledge advanced, however, students of anatomy realized that arteries carry blood and only the windpipe and bronchial tubes carry air. To specify the windpipe, they coined the phrase artēriā trakheia, "rough artery," referring to its rough cartilaginous structure. The adjective trakheia, "rough," entered modern English as trachea, the current medical term for the windpipe.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2020 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices
Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:
The Indo-European appendix covers nearly half of the Indo-European roots that have left their mark on English words. A more complete treatment of Indo-European roots and the English words derived from them is available in our Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.