Chapter IX

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The mouth and throat have several parts with pure Greek names. For example, larynx, pharynx, and esophagus are all Greek terms that were used in antiquity to refer generally to the area of the throat and windpipe. The Greek word staphyle (“bunch of ”) was also used at one time to describe the free edge of the soft palate that hangs at the back of the throat, but now it is known exclusively as a single “little grape” (Lat. ), although the Greek synonym still survives in such compounds as “staphylococcus,” a type of pus-producing bacteria. is Greek for “upon the tongue” and refers to the flap of cartilage at the root of the tongue that covers the glottis during the act of swallowing so that food does not enter the trachea.

Some names have unknown origins, such as gingiva (“,” which happens to share a rare suffix with saliva, also a Latin word). “Tonsils” comes from the Latin tonsillae, but the origin of this Latin form is obscure. Interestingly, the Romans speculated that it was borrowed from a Gallic language, a very unusual source for anatomical terminology, especially when the Greek amygdala (“”) was available. Further, the Latin is of obscure origin, though modern scholars suggest that it is borrowed from falandum, meaning “sky” in Etruscan, a mysterious early Italian, non-Indo-European langage. This possibility is appealing, especially since Aristotle used the same imagery, comparing the roof of the mouth to the vault of the heavens when he called it ouranos (Grk. “sky”).

Finally, the protuberances on the tongue are known as (Lat. “nipples”) and are put into four categories: filiform, fungiform, foliate, and circumvallate. “Filiform” protuberances are shaped like a . Those that are “fungiform” are shaped like a . “Foliate” means “similar to a .” “Circumvallate” (“surrounded by a rampart”) is probably the most difficult to guess, since you have not been given the base vall- (“rampart”), though by now you are at least familiar with the prefix circum-.