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Anatomical Etymology

Way back in the beginning of time when this blog started, in 2018, we wrote about some fun anatomical terms.

Achilles. Adrenal. Phalanx. Etcetera. Read that ancient post here.

We thought it would be fun to look at some others:


This one packs a lot of punch because in Latin supercilium carries three meanings. First, eyebrow. Second, ridge. (So far, so good, right?) And third, pride.


Bear with us.

That first definition is no problem, especially in English. The plural of supercilium is supercilia and those are the two hairy (in most cases) arches located at the lower part of the forehead.


In Greek and Roman architectural terminology, supercilium also refers to the lintel of a door. (The lintel is the horizontal support over the door. A door’s eyebrow?)

But “pride?”

Yes, that definition comes through in English as “supercilious.” Synonyms? Pompous, disdainful, arrogant, snooty, proud. And what do you do when you’re feeling supercilious? Why of course you raise your eyebrows … in disdain.

So there you go.


When was the last time you cleared your thrapple?

It’s a Scottish word and its origins are a bit hazy, but it’s believed to be from the Middle English “throppill.”

Or maybe not.

The Oxford English Dictionary suggests that “thropple” might be a contraction of “throat-boll,” a word for your Adam’s apple.

But “thrapple” refers to more than the protuberance in your neck. “Thrapple” is the whole throat.

Oh, and “Adam’s apple?”

It’s been around since 1625. Oddly, the term was once applied more loosely. It was also used to refer to plantains, pomelos, and pomegranates. The idea was that these vaunted fruits were in a category of “fruits of paradise” allegedly savored in Eden.

But those definitions of Adam’s apple went by the wayside.

And one stuck.

In your (our) thrapple.


If you were an early anatomist and had the chance to name various parts, you often turned to nature for inspiration. There was no naming system in place. (And thank goodness they went with names rather than numbers.)

Studying the brain, the early scientists noticed that one little piece of the limbic system resembled the mythological sea monster, also known as hippokampos.

In Greek, hippos (horse) and kampos (sea monster).

Photo credit: Wikipedia

A seahorse.

The hippocampus is located in the inner region of the temporal lobe. Together with the fornix, the narrow bundle of nerve fibers in the output tract of the hippocampus, looks very much like a seahorse.

The hippocampus is important in the learning process, in regulating emotional responses and it is also thought to be involved in storing long-term memories and in making those memories resistant to forgetting (though this is still being debated).

So credit your hippocampus if you remember the name for that critical piece of brain anatomy.

Or credit the fact that nothing is “Greek” to you!







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