Wednesday, October 2, 2013

How are your muscles like mice?

The word muscle comes from the Latin musculus, which means little mouse. But why? It's because the rippling movement of certain muscles under the skin was thought to resemble the movement of a mouse. My mental image—and it is not a pleasant one—is of a mouse running or moving underneath a thin rug or blanket. Although it's an unnerving image, I can see the connection.

The Greek word mŷs can also mean either mouse or muscle; this word gives us the prefix myo-, as in myalgia (muscle pain) or myocardial infarction (damage to or death of the muscular tissue of the heart due to lack of oxygen).

While we're looking at the human body, we can examine another unexpected connection, this one between the skeleton and arteriosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries. Skeleton is ultimately derived from the Greek verb skellein, to dry up, via skeletos (dried up) and skeletos soma (dried-up body).

Skellein is related to skleros, meaning hard, a natural enough association with dried things. This made its way into Latin and then English as sclero, which is combined with other roots to form words. It appears in the the word scleroderma, for example, the name of a skin condition, often painful, in which the skin becomes hardened. And arteriosclerosis is any thickening and hardening of the arteries.

So there you have it: muscles like mice and a skeleton consisting of what's left after everything else has dried up and blown away. I look forward to investigating more of the poetry of anatomy.

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