Author: Prof. Dr. med. Peter Altmeyer

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Last updated on: 29.10.2020

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Acnestis (from Greek knestis = spinal column) is a historically developed medical term that became known in the specialist literature in the middle of the 18th century by the English physician Robert James (1703 to 1776). It is used very rarely today. There is no adequate term for Acnestis in the German-speaking world.

General information
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Robert James was a doctor and inventor of "James fever powder". In the anatomical description of living creatures, acnestis (acnestis) stands for that part of the back where the two shoulder blades meet in animals. Many mammals cannot reach this area with their extremities when itching, and exhibit a particular scratching behaviour (rolling, rubbing against poles or branches etc.).

In 1826 Kraus defined Acnestis as follows: "In quadrupeds, not the backbone as the lexicographers assume, but rather the point where the shoulder blades meet upwards, the withers, backbone, ram tear, where the animals like to scratch".

The Anglo-American language area describes Acnestis analogously for the human being at the back an area between the shoulder blades, which cannot be reached with the fingers or only with difficulty. A corresponding definition can also be found in Braun-Falco et al (2000). "Acnestis itching" leads to a special scratching behaviour which is carried out with appropriate scratching utensils, e.g. long brushes.

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Robert James published the following poem under the name "acnestis":

This itch you can scratch is like a drug.

Unless you get it now you'll go berserk.

There's no one here to offer you a hug.

This snorkel is too flexible to work.

If you had been a yoga-class fanatic,

You wouldn't need this piece of dry spaghetti.

It snaps, you stomp up to the attic,

But you can't find the box with the machete.

Your golf clubs? Nope. Divorce apocalypse.

She sold the chain saw and the last pool noodle.

You go bananas with your fingertips.

It could be worse. You could have been a poodle.

You grasp at straws, go mad as all hope fades,

Try anything, a periscope, trombone,

To reach that place between your shoulder blades,

The itch that you will never scratch alone.

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  1. Acnestis: In: WordSense. Eu Dictionary: meanings and definitions, origins and history.
  2. Braun-Falco et al (2000) Acnestis. Springer publishing house S. 991
  3. Kraus A L (1826) Dictionary or declaration of origin. Critical-etymological medical lexicon, or explanation of origin. Acnestis. Rudolph Deuerlich Publisher S.8
  4. Poole S. In: A Word for Every Day of the Year. Kindle Edition, p.23


Last updated on: 29.10.2020