I am definitely this excited about the course. I have yet to establish whether the students share my boundless enthusiasm given that the classes start at 9am.

I recently started teaching my first self-designed course at the University of Michigan, an intro to bioarchaeology class titled The Science of Skeletons. We had our first meeting last Thursday, and in addition to demonstrating the appropriate way to handle human skeletal remains and treating my students to a rapid-fire summary of the basics of bone biology, I decided that they needed to learn some anatomical terminology. We covered regions of the human skeleton (cranial, post-cranial, axial, appendicular), skeletal planes (coronal, sagittal, transverse) anatomical directions (anterior, posterior, proximal, distal, medial, lateral) and some of the movements of the human body.

One of the terms I introduced was supination. This directional term refers explicitly to the movements of the hand, and is the counter-movement to pronation (when your palm is turned down as if typing). Supination occurs when you turn your hand so that the palm faces up, as if begging for something. I have always remembered this by relating it to begging: “Your hand is in supination when your palm is up in supplication.”

David Tenniers III - Saint Valentine Kneeling  (in supplication) - 1600s

Here, a kindly angel assists Saint Valentine, who has apparently forgotten how to supinate his hand.

However, one of my graduate colleagues pointed out that “supplication” is not necessarily an easy everyday word to remember if you’re not a medieval Christian. He told me that one of his instructors had once used the mnemonic “sup?” to teach students about supination, because that’s the position young gentlemen hold their hands in when asking how things are going or when concisely summarizing their lack of concern for their opponent’s point of view.


So, the mnemonic trick here is to remember that “When you’re asking “sup?”, your hands are in supination”. In the gif above, The Fresh Prince is shown in the process of supinating his hands. Were he to carry the motion through fully, his hands would be horizontal, with palms facing up. Jon Stewart, a master of supination given the number of times he throws up his hands at the American political circus, demonstrates below:

Image Credits
: First skeleton in graduation cap found here. Tenniers painting of St. Valentine found here. Fresh Prince gif found here. Jon Stewart from, here.

This entry was posted in Anatomy, Bioarchaeology Vocab, Osteology and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Supination

  1. pollyw says:

    As I have thought before, I seriously wish you had taught my anatomy class in PT school! Great illustrations and clever captions. On a sidenote, we learned supination as the position you would put your hand in to hold soup if you had no bowls around (being college students and all). We also had a prof who made the distinction of ab- versus adduction by saying “a-boy-duction” and “a-dog-duction”.


    • JB says:

      Thanks Polly, glad you like the post! I’ll remember the “soup” trick for the future. And maybe sometime soon I’ll put up my own tricks for abduction and adduction…


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