Fun Trivia: How 10 Body Parts Got Their Names
Which bird is your tailbone is named after, what's that space between your nose and eyebrows called, and more fascinating facts about human body parts.
By Lauren Gelman
The proper name for your tailbone, coccyx was derived from the Greek word for cuckoo—“kokkux”—because the curved shape of the bone resembles the bird’s beak. Scientists consider your tailbone a vestigial structure, which humans no longer needed once we began walking upright; tails help other mammals balance.
The name for these important blood vessels hails from the Latin and Greek word “arteria,” which means “air holder.” Ancient anatomists thought arteries were actually air ducts, since they didn’t hold any blood after death. Along with veins and capillaries, your body is home to an incredible 100,000 miles' worth of blood vessels.
Thank Roman tradition for the name for the underside of your hand. It was custom to place a palm leaf in the hands of the winner of a contest during ancient times.
That flat area above your nose and between your eyebrows? Its name comes from the Latin word glabellus, which means hairless. Only if you’re handy with the tweezers, anyway.
Your manicurist should know what this means: it’s the word that describes the white, crescent-shaped area of at the tip of your nails. “Lun” is the Latin root for moon. This area is white because there are no blood vessels beneath it, as there are under the rest of the nail bed.
This butterfly-shaped gland, located in the neck, is named for the Greek word “qyreoeidh,” which means “large, oblong shield.” You have your thyroid to thank—or curse—for your metabolism: it produces hormones that affect how your body uses energy (calories).
When butchers smoked hams (thigh meat from pigs), they hung the meat on hooks in the smokehouse by their ropelike tendons, which led to the name hamstrings. These muscles run down the back of your thighs and are responsible for helping you bend your knee and extend your leg.
The longest muscle in the body, which ropes around the top of your thigh, is also activated when you sit cross-legged, like tailors used to do when they pinned hems or cuffs. In Latin, the word sartor means tailor.
That dangly pink object in the back of your throat is Latin for “little grape,” which is kind of what it looks like. Scientists don’t understand exactly what the uvula does, but because the uvula is largely unique to humans, they suspect it plays a role in speech by secreting enough saliva to prevent dry mouth.
The colorful part of your eye wasn’t named for the beautiful flower. Rather, both uses of the word come from the name of the Greek goddess of the rainbow. Scientists know of eight different genes that impact eye color, which is controlled by the amount of the pigment melanin; brown eyes have more pigment than blue.
Sources: American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, Amazing Body Facts and Trivia, Anatomy & Physiology for Dummies, Franklin Institute, Mental Floss
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