EEEKKK! A mouse!
Let's start with body systems that are most familiar to us. Firstly, our musculoskeletal system. Muscle literally means "little mouse." The early anatomists observed the manner in which many of our muscles contract, and therefore moved beneath our skin, and this reminded them of how a mouse might appear to similarly move if covered by some object. Our skin in this case. Creepy perhaps, but fascinating none the less! We have well over 600 "little mice." The skeletal part of musculoskeletal means "pertaining to a hard, dried body." Since we have an internal skeleton it's referred to as an "endoskeleton," or "hard, dried body, within." Some creatures such as grasshoppers and crustaceans have an external skeleton, or “exoskeleton.”
An overview of the head, face, and neck region (with a few digressions as usual)
Some noteworthy muscles of the head and face region include the temporalis muscle. It lies upon the temporal bone on the lateral portion of our skull. In human anatomy, temporalis relates to "the passing of time.'' It was through the observation that hair in this region tends to turn gray early during the aging process, therefore indicating the passing of time. Skull means "cup-like, or head pan." Caput is the proper anatomical term for our “head.” A wonderful variation is cappa which means a “hooded cape or cloak.” Cappa appears interestingly enough in the word escape as an individual wearing a hooded cape or cloak often found it far easier to elude those in pursuit by removing this cumbersome article of clothing. Therefore, escape means “out of a cape or hooded cloak.” Also, a baseball "cap" is a "head covering" you wear on your caput. A variation of caput also applies to the "ceps" portion of terms such as biceps or triceps brachii. Brachii refers to brachium which means "arm." It appears as the "brace" portion of "embrace," which clearly involves the use of the arms. Therefore, biceps brachii means "two headed (muscle) of the arm." Or, two headed “little mouse” of the arm, for that matter!”
Incidentally, in human anatomy the arm is considered to be only the portion of the superior limb from the shoulder to the elbow. The common term “arm” means "to fit together, to join." It appears in words such as army, and armada. "The antebrachium, or “forearm,” literally means "before the brachium.”
Now, back to interesting points in the region of the head and face. Face means “the front, or appearance.” Another anatomical variation of face appears as facet, or “little face.” A facet describes a small, flat, or smooth surface on a bone. A facade, is the “front, or face of a building.” Metaphorically, a facade is something we might construct, or present to others in order to hide our true emotions.
Esoteric terms are music to my ears,
and bring a smile to my face.
The buccinator muscle forms the main substance of our cheek. It means “trumpeter." It compresses our cheeks and permits one to blow into an instrument such as a trumpet. The risorius muscle means "laughter." This muscle acts to retract the angle of the mouth, as in a smiling or laughing. The risorius muscle is inhibited by the nervous system when paying bills, or confirming bank account balances!
Here are a few interesting, yet rarely mentioned muscles of the face. The orbicularis oris muscle of the mouth means “orb, or circle of the mouth.” It closes our lips, and permits us to form the numerous shapes with our mouth required for speech, especially when acknowledging fellow motorists whilst driving! The orbicularis oculi muscle, means "orb, or circle of the eye,” which is a comprised of three parts, and permits us to blink, or voluntarily close our eyes. These are called sphincter muscles. A sphincter muscle is a type of muscle. It has a circular, or ring-like structure, and has a unique characteristic of constricting as it contracts. We possess numerous sphincter muscles in our body, not just that one!
Sphincter means “a band” or ‘that which constricts.” Sphincter is believed to come from the ancient Greek sphingo, which means “I strangle,” and sphingein, “to bind tightly." Given these graphic word definitions and the characteristic contractile nature of a sphincter muscle, a strong candidate for the origin of the anatomical term sphincter, leads us to the Sphinx in Greek Mythology. Behold the Sphinx, “the strangler.”
The Sphinx in Greek Mythology & The Riddle Of The Sphinx
The Sphinx in Greek Mythology, was a composite of the head of a woman, body of a lion, and wings of an eagle, and guarded the entrance into the Greek city of Thebes. From atop its perch, it preyed upon passersby, who unable to answer a riddle, were subsequently "strangled," and devoured. Here are three popular versions of the Riddle of the Sphinx:
"What goes on four feet in the morning, two feet at noon, and three feet in the evening?"
"What is that which has one voice and yet becomes four-footed and two-footed and three-footed?"
"A thing there is whose voice is one; Whose feet are four and two and three. So mutable a thing is none that moves in earth or sky or sea. When on most feet this thing doth go, its strength is weakest and its pace most slow."
Oedipus, yes, that Oedipus, whose name means "swollen foot," finally answered the riddle correctly as he offered "Man" as his answer. As a babe he crawls on four limbs, (thus, at his weakest and slowest pace), then walks on two, then in old age requires a cane, the third "foot." That put an abrupt end to the treacherous Sphinx as it hurled itself off its perch. Surely, an etymology nothing short of stunning to admirers of anatomical terminology!
Now, a few new wrinkles to our story
The corrugator supercilii muscle means "muscle of the eyebrow which wrinkles." It draws our eyebrows medially "toward the midline of the body" producing wrinkles in the portion of our face between our eyebrows, as in frowning. In anatomy, supercilius means "above the eyelid, or eyelash. Spelled supercilious in general texts as a look of expression, refers to ones ability to "raise an eyebrow" as an expression of arrogance, or disdain. The mighty masseter muscle means "chewer, or to gnash the teeth," permitting us to clench our jaw, as during mastication which means the "process of chewing" food.
Love potion number nine! And then some!
The vertical groove between the base of the nose and the upper lip is called the philtrum. This term is a derived from words meaning everything from "love potion, love charm, to love, to make oneself beloved.” That’s a lot of love!
Don’t shush me!
Wonderful, creative stories abound regarding how the philtrum was formed. Some involve angels pressing their finger against this spot on the baby while still in the womb as a means to shush the baby from speaking about heaven once it’s born. Other stories say this act by the angel completely erases all holy knowledge acquired by the baby while still in the womb. All told, it’s the pressure from the angel’s finger against this area on the baby that creates the indentation we know as the philtrum! Other sources cite that the indentation comes directly from God’s finger. It’s wonderful how the common and nearly habitual action of bringing our index finger to our philtrum to shush or quiet someone can have such an uncommonly rich origin!
Cupid, draw back your bow, and let your arrow go!
The horizontal double curve of the upper lip is called Cupid’s bow due to the resemblance of the bow used by Cupid, the Roman god of love and desire. The name Cupid means “desire.”
The eye is the “wind-eye” to the soul!
Did you realize that “window” was originally wind-eye? The original window isn’t exactly what we look through today as it amounted to nothing more than “eye-like” hole in the roof that allowed wind into the room. The individually named components of the eye are equally interesting and creative.
Somewhere over the iris!
The Iris is a particularly colorful term. It means “rainbow,” and honors Iris, the personification of the rainbow in Greek Mythology. Iris was the messenger goddess, and appeared as a rainbow through which the gods communicated to mankind. Iris comes from eiro, and means ‘I announce.”
The “whites of the eyes” refers to the sclera of the eyeball. Sclera means “hard,” and is composed of extremely dense white fibrous tissue. Cornea means “horny,” and refers to the tough or “horn-like” quality of this transparent tissue structure of the eyeball. A delightful derivation is that of the lens of the eye, so named for its resemblance to a “lentil” bean!
The term retina has by no means a definitive origin, yet the consensus is that it comes from rete, which means “net.” Other possibilities involve the words arachnoidem meaning “spider, or cob-web like,” and amphibelstron, meaning “something thrown around,” as in an article of clothing such as a coat being cast or thrown over the shoulders, or referring to the casting of a fisherman’s net. Our retina is composed of ten layers!
The pupil is perhaps my favorite term regarding the eye. In anatomy, pupil means “little doll.” When two individuals were standing in close proximity to one another, each individual could see a tiny reflection of themselves in the other person’s pupil. Their tiny reflected image reminded them of observing a little doll. Priceless!
What a pain in the collum!
Neck possibly derives from a word meaning “a high point, or ridge.” The bones within our neck are referred to as our cervical vertebrae, of which there are seven. Cervical, means “pertaining to the neck.” Each individual bone in our vertebral column is called a vertebra. To begin with, the first cervical vertebra connects the skull to the vertebral column. It's called C1, for cervical vertebra one. C1 is also known as the Atlas, named for the mythological Titan who was condemned to bear the heavens upon his shoulders.
Since Atlas was often depicted as supporting a globe, the anatomists decided that the first cervical vertebra appeared to support our “globe-like” head, and therefore Atlas served as an especially appropriate name. The name Atlas is believed to mean “to uphold, support, or endure.”
Oh, what a knight!
The Latin word for neck is collum. The “collar” of a shirt derives its name from collum. A wonderful word related to collum is accolade, which means “around or about the neck.” Before a candidate for knighthood received his sword, the presenter of the sword lightly touched each shoulder of the knight with the flat surface of the sword-blade. This ceremony was known as the accolade. We certainly are familiar with other applications of the word accolade as in bestowing high praise for outstanding achievement, and the placing of medals around the neck of those recipients of such honors. Incidentally, candidate and candle are related. Both derive from words meaning “to glow, to be white, to shine.” In ancient Rome, individuals seeking public office would dress in a brilliant white toga as a symbolic gesture that was meant to reflect their impeccable, trustworthy character.
A notable muscle of the neck is the sternocliedomastoid. It’s a composite of three terms beginning with the sternum which means "chest or breastbone." Sternum is related to the word strewn as in "spread out." The ribs appearing to "spread out from the sternum." Cleiedo, refers to our clavicle or collar bone. Clavicle has two possible meanings. The most often referenced is its resemblance to a "little key" used to open ancient doors. The other refers to a "tendril, the shoot from a vine." The curvature of this bone evoked an image of a vine "growing out" of the sternum. Mastoid means "breast-like." It refers to the mastoid process on our skull.
The part of a term containing "-oid," means "resembles, or like." Another example is the thyroid gland. Thyroid gland is a composite of two etymologies. Thyroid means "shield-like," because of its appearance. A warrior's shield for example, with each warrior holding their shield and facing one another in a position of defense. Gland means "acorn," as it reminded the early anatomists of the nut.
Until next time...