Here it is:

A healthy body is often described as a well-oiled machine. Like a machine, it’s made up of otherwise fixed segments given mobility by joints.

Does that mean that a human body is fixed in a differnt way than machines are?

2 Answers 2


In a use such as this, otherwise means "it would be X if not for".

For example:

George Clooney brought interest to an otherwise uninspiring film.
The argument livened up an otherwise uneventful afternoon.

In your example, it is saying that the parts of our body would be fixed in place if it weren't for our joints.

It is generally used in this sense for contrasts, so there should always be something it is contrasting with - in this case being fixed but for being granted mobility. When used in other senses things are different, of course.

  • Sorry, but I am confused. I cannot see how the word "joint" defines the meaning of "otherwise". Let's say there is not that part and the sentence is: "A healthy body is often described as a well-oiled machine. Like a machine, it’s made up of otherwise fixed segments." Feb 26, 2019 at 12:15
  • "otherwise fixed segments" doesn't make sense without reference to some way in which they are not fixed. It means "segments that would be fixed it it weren't for", you might say. The segments of our body would be fixed if it weren't for our joints.
    – SamBC
    Feb 26, 2019 at 12:17

"Otherwise" is used in different ways. In this kind of context, it is used to state different circumstances, or a different condition from those present or being discussed.

In your example, the text describes the body as being "made up" of components as if it is a machine that had been built. Obviously, that is not the case - our body parts, although distinct from one another, were never separate. This is why the writer uses "otherwise", to show that they are connected in contrast to his illustrative use of the term "made up".

  • Maybe this is by country (differs) in definition of or for segments differ. Your reference for definition of segments?
    – user90322
    Feb 26, 2019 at 11:31
  • Segment, as a noun, is the parts into which something may be divided or has been divided (noun) or the act of dividing something into parts (verb). Pronounced slightly differently (different stress) depending on whether it's a noun or verb. British English: en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/segment American English: merriam-webster.com/dictionary/segment
    – SamBC
    Feb 26, 2019 at 12:11
  • @SteveB053 I don't believe I used the word "segments" in my answer. I focus on the term "made up" which is really the opposite. I'm not saying that the human body cannot be segmented, but it is certainly not constructed by placing those parts together.
    – Astralbee
    Feb 26, 2019 at 12:21
  • Astralbee - got it. I simply find it fascinating from your mental picture comment, it simply would not show up in an American mental school kids head that way.
    – user90322
    Feb 26, 2019 at 12:26

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