The cartilages of the larynx.
|Precursor||4th and 6th branchial arch|
It is composed of two plate-like laminae that fuse on the anterior side of the cartilage to form a peak, called the laryngeal prominence. This prominence is often referred to as the "pomus Adami" or "Adam's apple". The laryngeal prominence is more prominent in adult male than female because of the difference in the size of the angle: 90° in male and 120° in female.
The lip of the thyroid cartilage just superior to the laryngeal prominence is called the superior thyroid notch, while the notch inferior to the thyroid angle is called the inferior thyroid notch.
Layers and articulations
The two laminae that make up the main lateral, surfaces of the thyroid cartilage extend obliquely to cover either side of the trachea. The oblique line marks the superior lateral borders of the thyroid gland.
The thyroid cartilage forms the bulk of the anterior wall of the larynx, and serves to protect the vocal folds ("vocal cords"), which are located directly behind it.
Changing the angle of the thyroid cartilage relative to the cricoid cartilage changes the pitch.
It also serves as an attachment for several laryngeal muscles.
The English term thyroid cartilage is derived from the Latin expression cartilago thyreoides. The latter is a translation of Ancient Greek χόνδρος θυρεοειδής, attested in the writings of the Greek physician Galen. The Latin word cartilago, as well as the Ancient Greek word χόνδρος, both mean cartilage, while the ancient Greek word θυρεοειδής means shield-like or shield-shaped. The latter compound is composed of Ancient Greek θυρεός, shield  and εἶδος, form/shape. The Greeks used εἶδος in compounds to indicate a resemblance with the first part of the word.
The ancient Greek word θυρεός can be found in the Odyssey of Homer, and represented a large square stone that was put against the door to keep it shut. Those θυρεοί were eventually used by the Greek army as shields to protect themselves. This shield was adapted by Roman legions and referred to by them as a scutum. The Roman scutum was an oblong shield with an oval shape. Numerous shields were used by the Roman soldiers, such as the pelta, parma and clypeus. In contrast to the scutum, these shields were round. Despite these latter shields bearing a clear round shape, coinages like petalis cartilago, cartilago parmalis, and cartilago clypealis were coined for the thyroid cartilage. In 16th-century Italian anatomist Realdo Colombo's De re anatomica, besides the aforementioned incorrect petalis cartilago, correct forms like scutalis cartilago and scutiformis cartilago can be found, as the scutum is the real Roman pendant of the Greek θυρεός. The latter Latin expression can be found in its English form in medical dictionaries as scutiform cartilage, while the name of the shield itself, i.e. scutum, is still being mentioned as a synonym for the thyroid cartilage.
In the various editions of the official Latin nomenclature (Nomina Anatomica, in 1998 rebaptized as Terminologia Anatomica), three different spellings can be found, i.e. cartilago thyreoidea. cartilago thyroidea  and the previously mentioned cartilago thyreoides. The variant with the adjective thyreoidea (with the ending -ea) would be a faulty rendering of Ancient Greek θυρεοειδής in Latin. Greek compounds ending on -ειδής, when imported into Latin as loanword, ended on -ides. In the 17th-century the non-classical Latin form on -ideus/-idea/ideum for Greek -ειδής/-ειδές became into use, mostly by French anatomist Jean Riolan the Younger. No Greek loanwords (originally on -ειδής/-ειδές) ending on -ideus/-idea/-ideum exist in classical Latin, thereby making the form on -ideus/-idea/-ideum non-Latinate in character. The first edition of the Jena Nomina Anatomica (JNA) contained the incorrect cartilago thyreoidea, but after a list of recommendations/corrections was made this was corrected in subsequent editions of the JNA.
The variant with thyroidea (omitting e after thyr) would be some kind of compromise to English-speaking anatomists, as they have difficulties in pronouncing that specific combination of letters, forcing a greater resemblance between Latin and English orthography. Dorland's medical dictionary from 1948 already adopted this incorrect spelling with the erroneous reference to the official Basle Nomina Anatomica even before the nomenclature committee of the Nomina Anatomica officially approved this orthographic revision in its edition of 1961. The spelling without an e is commonly accepted in English but earlier works preferred the etymologically correct thyreoid cartilage. The official Latin veterinary nomenclature, Nomina Anatomica Veterinaria has the form cartilago thyroidea  in common with the human Nomina Anatomica/Terminologia Anatomica, but allows in contrast to the latter, to use cartilago thyreoidea  as alternative spelling.
Shield versus door
An unfortunate mishap is the resemblance between Latin thyroidea and English thyroid on the one side and Ancient Greek θυροειδής on the other side, as the latter does not mean shield-like, but actually means like a door, derived from θύρα, door. Θυροειδής is however used in anatomic nomenclature in the expression θυροειδές τρῆμα (τρῆμα = hole, perforation, aperture), coined by the Greek physician Galen. Ancient Greek θύρα can be translated, besides the earlier mentioned door, as gate, entrance and opening. The Greek name θυροειδές τρῆμα for this opening between the os pubis and the os ischii, currently called obturator foramen, clearly originates for being an opening (θύρα), while bearing no resemblance to a shield (θυρεός). The Latin translation foramen thyreoideum for θυροειδές τρῆμα of the 18th–19th-century German physician and anatomist Samuel Thomas von Sömmerring is clearly mistaken. The current foramen thyroideum of the Terminologia Anatomica is not a Latin translation of Galen's θυροειδές τρῆμα, but an orthographic revision of what was previously known in the Nomina Anatomica as foramen thyreoideum, an inconstantly present opening in the lamina of the thyroid cartilage.
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- This article uses anatomical terminology; for an overview, see anatomical terminology.
- Medical literature
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- Thyroid+cartilage at eMedicine Dictionary
- lesson11 at The Anatomy Lesson by Wesley Norman (Georgetown University) (larynxsagsect)