If you spend any time around an Anatomy in Clay® workshop, class, or professional development of any kind, you know we love our anatomical terminology.
Our teachers often spend considerable time making sure we are talking about the same parts—and referring to them in terms of their position relative to the body itself.
When we came across this list of “Obscure Words for Body Parts,” we had to share. Full credit to the fine wordsmith folks at Merriam Webster.
Take, for instance, phiz.
Yes, that word was used in prose by the likes of Nathaniel Hawthorne, George Eliot, Herman Melville, and others.
Phiz for face.
And phiz was apparently short for physiognomy, “the art of discovering temperament and character from outward appearance.”
For some reason, phiz fell out of favor. Otherwise, we would all have to “phiz the music” and drill sergeants would be shouting “about phiz!” Not quite the same.
Or take thrapple.
Thrapple comes from Scottish, from the “synonymous dialectal” word thropple which, in turn, comes from the Middle English throppill, which might be a contraction of throat-boll, a word for Adam’s apple. We love Merriam Webster’s editorial comment on this one: “We're fine with the resulting degree of uncertainty on the etymological front. The important thing is that people know the word is available for use and apply it when they feel the need.”
Yes, your thrapple is located in the neck region right below your phiz.
This one is not so obscure—it’s the “largely cartilaginous projecting portion of the external ear.” We all know the earlobe;pinna is everything else. Pinna can also refer to other projecting body part—such as a feather, a wing, or a fine. Pinna, in fact, is Latin for feather or wing.
Penne pasta links its shape to the same terminology.
The Hinnux is the innermost digit (such as big toe) of a hind or lower limb. The origin of this one seems to be up for grabs, but most etymologists trace it back to Modern Latin “allex” for big toe. By the way, the plural halluces are referred to as such whether on humans or other mammals. Or birds. If the animal has an innermost digit, it’s got a hallux.
In several old English dialects, when you tucked something into your armpit you called it your ōxta. Thus, today’s “obscure” term oxter. It’s the “hollow beneath the junction of the arms and the shoulder.”
And then there’s Philtrum, from the Greek philtron meaning “love potion” or “charm.” It’s the vertical groove on the median line of the upper lip. All sorts of folklore “made by an angel’s finger,” for instance, goes with this groove. If you’re an Action Comics fan, you’ll recall in #719 that the Joker tells Batman there is a clue right under his nose and that leads Batman to Dr. Philip Drum.
For humans, this feature is vestigial. It has no apparent use today. The indentation may have lost its importance when we started placing more reliance on eyesight. (Dogs, with their powerful noses, have a prominent philtrum that carries “dissolved odorants” into the mouth for further analysis.) So the human philtrum might be relatively useless today, but it’s another indication of our evolutionary past.
And nothing is useless if it sparks conversation!
Anatomical terminology—always a thing of beauty, even when it comes to the parts like the hinnux and oxter.