14 unusual words for parts of the body

I stumbled across the word dactylion the other day, and I suddenly found myself curious about other unusual words for parts of the human body.

I was never lucky enough to take an anatomy class in high school, so diving into the linguistic world of body bits was a voyage of discovery (and, often, hilarity).

The best research is often crowdsourced. As such, I asked the good folks in The Secret Society of the Curious (our über-exclusive Facebook club) for their best odd body words. I got a flood of excellent responses, and have given credit where credit is due.

Know where your hallux is? How are your purlicues doing today? Is your glabella looking a bit on the wrinkly side? Equip yourself to talk about your bod from tip to toe with this collection of 14 unusual words for parts of the body.


1. Dactylion

The very tip end of the middle finger. Comes from the Greek daktylos (finger) + -ion (a diminutive suffix).

No, the other fingertips don’t get special names. Unless you name them yourself.

2. Hallux

This is the fancypants science word for your big toe. We common folk just call it the fumb.

By the way, the pinkie toe is known as the minimus.

3. Purlicue

(thanks to Annie Wynter-Crofts and Franc Neary)

That space between your forefinger and your thumb.

This word comes to us from the North of England, probably from the Scottish term pirlie (meaning “curly”). And it’s also a synonym for curlicue. In case you want to switch things up.

4. Fraenum

A fraenum is simply a small ligament between body parts that restricts movement. The easiest to notice are the ones in your mouth, connecting your tongue to the bottom or your lips to your gums.

It comes from the Latin term fraenum, which means “bridle.”

5. Gowpen

(thanks to Franc Neary)

I just love this one. Gowpen is what you call the space that is formed by putting two hands together to make a bowl shape. Clearly, we needed a word for it.

It comes from the Old Norse word gaupn.

6. Philtrum

(thanks to Paul Sathabadi Bussabong)

That little groove between the bottom of your nose and your upper lip has a name, and its name is philtrum.

It comes from the Latin philtrum, which, oddly enough, meant “love-potion.” In many mammals, like dogs, the philtrum carries moisture from the mouth up to the nose so it stays wet. It helps enhance their sense of smell. Tragically, humans are not equipped with this special feature.

7. Canthus

Another “yup, there’s a name for it” word. Your canthus is where your upper and lower eyelids meet.

It comes from the Greek word kanthos, which can also mean the outer part of a wheel. May be more or less applicable depending on your crow’s feet.

8. Gnathion

(thanks to Franc Neary)

Your gnathion is located at the lowest point of your jawbone. It’s the bit of your chin that juts out the very most.

It comes from the Green gnathos, meaning jaw. Oddly unrelated to gnashing, which is thought to originate from the Old Norse word gnastan.

9. Glabella

Take your finger and place it – softly, now – between and directly above your eyebrows. There. You have found your glabella.

Is your glabella wrinkled and/or shrivelled? Please drink a glass of water – that’s a sign of dehydration.

10. Rasceta

You keep your own personal collection of rasceta just inside of your wrist. Yes, they’re the little lines marking where your forearm ends and your hand begins.

Palmistry is shockingly silent on the subject of rasceta, so I’m afraid you’ll have to invent your own destiny should you choose to interpret them.

11. Anatomical snuff box

My favorite of this list. Your anatomical snuff box is the triangular ridge found just between the base of your thumb and your wrist. Go on, look for it.

It’s named as such because it’s the spot where people would place powdered tobacco (“snuff”) to sniff. If you haven’t picked up this little habit yet, please consider an alternative. Origami’s nice.

Since snuff’s no longer the stuff, an excellent alternative name for this body part has been suggested by Lani Challburg Walker: The Salt Lick. That spot where you put the salt for ingestion post-tequila. I like it.

12. Gynaecomastia

(thanks to Annie Wynter-Crofts)

Manboobs. Usually benign, much maligned.

Semi-related: Galactorrhea is spontaneous milk production, which more commonly occurs in females, but can also happen to males. The world is a complex and glorious place to be.

13. Niddick

(thanks to Franc Neary)

Niddick is a lovely word for the nape of the neck.

Doubles as an excellent totally-innocuous-but-kind-of-rude-sounding insult. Draw out the “n” for maximum result: “You nnnnnnnniddick.

14. Dewlap

(thanks to Jaime MacKercher)

The dewlap is a loose flap of skin hanging from the underside of a person’s chin. Pronounced dewlaps are commonly seen in animals (think mastiffs, oxen, or iguanas), but Donald Trump’s got a pretty decent dewlap going as well.

As Jamie tells me, nobody really seems to know where the “dew” part came from, but the “lap” part is from the Old English læppa, simply meaning hanging flap.


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