Column: A lesson on parts, in two parts


Commentary by Curtis Honeycutt

Today’s linguistic lesson is a two-parter. Well, if you really want to get into it, it could potentially be several parts. And, when I say “parts,” I mean body parts.

I can talk your earlobes off about body parts. I want to specifically introduce you to the term “anatonym.” An anatonym can be one of two different terms, hence the two “parts.”

First, an anatonym can be a word for any body part. Elbow. Krelbow. Knee pit. Coccyx. Pinky toe. Uvula. As someone who recently broke a small bone in my foot (the tibial sesamoid in my left foot), I’m becoming more aware of the tiny, intricate parts of the foot. Your body, as John Mayer wrote, is a wonderland, indeed.

When it comes to body parts, let’s just say I know some good ones. Purlicue, for example, is the word for the space between your thumb and your forefinger. The philtrum is the word for the groove between your nose and your upper lip. Your glabella is the area between your two eyebrows — unless you have a unibrow.

The next time you play Mad Libs on a road trip, consider these anatonyms. “Rasceta” is not the name of an obscure Sicilian pasta dish; it’s the name for the lines on the inside of your wrist. Do you laugh at the word “armpit”? Show a little class and refer to it as one of its more proper names — “axilla” or “oxter”. You know that little half-circle of cartilage at the front of your ear? That’s your tragus.

Now we have arrived at part two of this body part word education. Another definition for “anatonym” is a phrase that uses a body part in it. For example, when you conform to someone else’s rules, you “toe the line” (not “tow” the line). If you fail to toe the line, you eventually have to “face the music”, which is when you have to confront the consequences of your bad decisions.

I like anatonyms; they are like personification for phrases. Have you ever paid for an expensive wedding? Any time you pay a large amount, often for an unreasonably large charge, you “foot the bill.” When you “shoulder the burden” for something, you take responsibility for something difficult. If you “thumb your nose” at something or someone, you are showing disrespect or disdain toward them.

Whether you’re dealing with body part names or expressions with body parts in them, anatonyms are the type of words that put flesh on phrases. Thanks for indulging my incessant navel-gazing.