The term glenoid fossa can refer to a smooth indentation on either the scapula or the temporal bone.
On the scapula, the glenoid fossa is located on the lateral side of the bone. It comprises a smooth, oval, and lightly indented surface where the head of the humerus articulates with the edge of the shoulder. In contrast, the glenoid fossa on the temporal bone is much smaller; it’s located on the inferior and anterior aspect of the bone, present as a little thumb-sized divot for the top of the mandibular condyle.
The glenoid fossa is also one of those perplexing terminological decisions that makes you wonder whether early anatomists ever pulled their heads out of their cadavers and communicated with their living colleagues:
Old-Timey Anatomist 1: “I’ve just found an absolutely fascinating indentation on the lateral scapula! What have you been up to all morning?”
Old-Timey Anatomist 2: “Oh, still examining this temporal bone, and let me tell you, there’s a doozy of a dimple where the mandible articulates…It’s really something!”
Old-Timey Anatomist 1: “How curious that we’re both focusing on areas that remind me of a socket that a pupil or eyeball could fit into! Say, what’s the word for that in ancient Greek?”
Old-Timey Anatomist 2: Glēnoeid?
Old-Timey Anatomist 1: That’s it! Well, we should probably focus on our work and avoid talking to eachother for the next decade or so while we get these features mapped out. Cheers!”
If you’re still curious, here’s an excellent post on the etymology of the term glenoid by Dr. A. Carey Carpenter, whose blog Anatomy Words scores extremely high on the osteo-nerd scale.
Image Credits: Photo of the scapula from Study Blue, here. Inferior view of the temporal bone and maxilla originally from smc.edu, here.
Love how we could catch the conversation between the old-timey anatomists! I’ve always wondered what they sounded like. Your writing is always so refreshing and makes me grin (while I’m learning something, I might add).
On a side note, as a physical therapist, my interest in the glenoid fossa is that it allows a large range of motion for the shoulder, but with that comes limited stability (as opposed to the hip joint which is large in stability, small in mobility).
Great post, can’t wait to follow the links in it!
Thanks Polly – I’m glad you enjoyed the post! And you’re right. That distinctive upper limb mobility is something we teach students about in introductory biological anthropology classes, when they’re learning how to differentiate primate and non-primate skeletons.
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Jess, this is absolutely hilarious! I’m grinning from glenoid fossa all the way to glenoid fossa at the humerus situation of these two anatomists. I’d love to share in a post to IG giving credit to you. Are you on instagram too? May I have permission to do so?