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Bean Notes

September 7, 2010

Today at WhizBANG! I posted a glossary of kidney terminology that should help explain why kidneys are also called nephro- and ren- things. It provides such useful information a duplicate post seemed in order:


A number of words pop up in the literature when discussing my favorite organs. Today’s post examines the origins of these terms.

First, kidney specialists are nephrologists from the Greek:

Nephro-: Prefix referring to the kidney as, for example, in nephrotoxic. From the Greek nephros meaning kidney.

Data regarding permanent kidney failure in the United States is collected by the US Renal Data System and permanent kidney failure is commonly called end-stage renal disease or ESRD:

Renal: Having to do with the kidney. From the Latin renes (the kidneys), which gave the French les reins which mean both the kidneys and the lower back.

To avoid the confusion of all of these terms, a variety of professional groups decided to use the word “kidney” a few years back, thus avoiding these “classical” terms as much as possible. “ESRD” and “nephrology” are ingrained and difficult to eradicate (what would the American Society of Nephrology call itself?).

But where did “kidney” come from? From Ye Olde English ancestors, thank you:

Kidney: early 14c., of unknown origin, originally kidenere ,

perhaps acompound of O.E. cwið  ”womb” + ey  ”egg,” in reference

to the shape of the organ. Fig. sense of ”temperament” is from 1550s.

Kidney bean  is from 1540s.

Kidney Beans with Rat Kidney

So which came first, the kidney or the bean? Etymologically, the urine factory preceded the legume. Go kidneys!

Image above created with a photo from PhotoXpress.

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