Home Columns Anantha Narayan The anatomy of gibberish

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    MOST people are born with a visceral hatred of mathematics. I was clearly off kilter. I abhorred the sight and sound of biology. The thought of endlessly dissecting frogs and capturing their inner beauty with gruesome pencil sketches in coloured cellophane sheet-wrapped record books didn’t particularly appeal to me.

    What ticked me off further was the hospital smell-inducing scientific nomenclature that felt stupefyingly unintelligible. I swore to myself that someday, when I grew up, I would learn enough Greek and Latin to figure things out. That day, my dear reader, has arrived. Please anaesthetise yourself before you subject yourself to the contents below. Let’s begin with the much reviled anus. It doesn’t have any malodorous basis.It gets its honourable name from the Latin word for ‘ring’ due to the ringed musculature surrounding the terminal
    orifice of the bowels.

    If that didn’t feel sufficiently biological, let’s plunge into the heart of the matter. Remember inferior and superior vena cava? Translated, they just mean ‘hollow veins’ labelled according to their order of appearance. By the way, the heart chambers, ventricle and auricle, were named for their shapes. Ventricle means ‘little belly’ and auricle decodes to ‘little ear’.

    Duodenum, the first part of the small intestine,has an interesting origin. It’s around 25 cm in length. But that wasn’t the measurement
    used in those days. So the Greek physician Herophilus counted it as 12-finger-widths or duodenum.

    The shape of the organ or bone often played a part in the naming. The pelvis is literally ‘the basin’. The shin bone tibia is Latin for ‘flute’.
    Cornea, the reason for two-thirds of the eye’s optical power, is a horn-shaped tissue. Those who know cornucopia (the horn of plenty) will be able to work out the corneal derivation. Likewise, thyroid or the Adam’s apple as we know it, owes its roots to the Greek word for ‘shield-shaped’.

    The meaning of some other vital organs will crack you up. The male pecker also known as the penis is ‘the tail’ in an ancient language, a
    diminutive form of which gave rise to the word ‘pencil’. Incidentally, the female sex organ vagina is from the Latin word for ‘scabbard’ – the sheath that holds the sword. Now wasn’t that one hell of an eye-opener?

    Anantha Narayan


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