Etymology of Xyster

A xyster is a surgical tool used to scrape bones. The Etymological Dictionary by John Oswald calls it “a scraper”. The Lexicon Orthopaedic Etymology by Diab explains that a xyster is an instrument for scraping and rasping tissue, especially from the surface of bone. The Universal Etymological English Dictionary by Nathan Bailey calls it a “surgeon’s instrument”.

This word is rarely used and should not be confused with the Xyster Framework, a PHP application framework with easy-to-use libraries that is licensed under the Open Source Initiative. Xyster should also not be confused with zapteryx xyster, also known as the southern banded guitarfish—a tropical fish found in South America.

This word is so rare that it was difficult for me to even find a good definition for it. There isn’t even a Wikipedia page for this tool at the time of this writing (February 2017). Every single dictionary seems to give the same definition. They all just say: “a surgeon’s instrument for scraping bones”.


The word xyster comes from the Greek ξυστήρ (scraper) and from ξύω (scrape). It’s a combination of xys and ter. Ter is a noun suffix that means “place for” or “means of”.


Bailey, N and Thomas Cox. 1727. The Universal Etymological English Dictionary. 1st ed. London: Printed for T. Cox, at the Lamb, under the Royal-Exchange.

Diab, Mohammad. 1999. Lexicon Of Orthopaedic Etymology. 1st ed. Amsterdam: Harwood Academic Publishers.

Oswald, John, John Miller Keagy, Joseph Thomas, and James Lynd. 1868. An Etymological Dictionary Of The English Language. 1st ed. Philadelphia: E.C. & J. Biddle.

Stevenson, Angus and Maurice Waite. 2011. Concise Oxford English Dictionary. 1st ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press.