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The Proper Names of 17 Bodily Functions

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Ask an anatomist, and they’ll be able to tell you that your kneecap is really your patella. Your armpit is your axilla and the little groove above your top lip is your philtrum. The little flap of cartilage the covers the hole in your ear? That’s your tragus, named after the Greek word for a billy goat—because the tuft of hair that grows on it resembles a goat’s beard (apparently).

But if that’s what’s on the outside, what about what happens on the inside? Well, it turns out the English language has quite a rich collection of formal, medical, and old fashioned words for all of the reflexes and reactions that our bodies naturally carry out without a second thought from us. So the next time you’re stretching as you get out of bed, or you interrupt an important meeting with a ructus or a borborygmus, you’ll at least have the perfect word for it.

1. BORBORYGMI

Derived originally from an onomatopoeic Greek word, a borborygmus is a rumbling in the stomach or bowels. Borborygmi are produced as the contents of the intestines are pushed along by waves of muscle contractions called peristalsis, although trapped gas from digested food or swallowed air can also cause your borborygmi to become noisier than normal. Bonus fact: Queasy stomach rumbles were called wambles in Tudor English, and you’d be wamble-cropped if you weren’t feeling well.

2. CACHINNATION

A study in 2013 found that when people laugh, it's only because they've found something funny about 20 percent of the time. The rest of the time, we use laughter as a means of signaling things like agreement, affection, ease, and nostalgia that we evolved long before communication through language was possible. And a fit of spontaneous, uproarious, unrestrained laughter is called cachinnation.

3. CICATRIZATION

Cicatrization is the formation of a cicatrix, or a scar. More generally, it refers to any of the healing and sealing processes that help a wound to mend, including the formation of a scab.

4. DEGLUTITION

Deglutition is the proper word for the action of swallowing. It’s an etymological cousin of words like glut, glutton, and gullet.

5. DIAPHORESIS

Sweating has been known by a whole host of (ironically quite beautiful) words in history, including the likes of resudation, sudorification, and diaphoresis, a 17th century word that literally means “to carry through.” Nowadays, "diaphoresis" is rarely encountered outside of purely medical contexts, where it’s used as an older or more formal name for excessive perspiration—a condition better known as hyperhidrosis.

6. ERUCTATION

As well as being another word for a volcanic eruption, eructation is the medical name for burping, while the burp itself is called a ructus. For what it’s worth, the Romans knew excessive or unstoppable belching as ructabundus (although sadly that word has yet to catch on in English).

7. FLATUS

So if a ructus is a burp, no prizes for guessing that a flatus goes the other way. Technically though, flatus is just the build-up of gas in the stomach or bowels, not the actual expulsion of it. For that, why not try using an old Tudor English word for a fart—ventosity.

8. HORRIPILATION

Horripilation literally means “bristled hairs,” and is the proper name for what you probably know as gooseflesh or goose bumps. Another name for the same thing is piloerection, although that also includes the phenomenon of animals raising their hair or fur (or, in the case of porcupines, their quills) when they’re stressed or under attack.

9. LACHRYMATION

Lachrymation is the proper name for shedding tears, which are produced in the lachrymal glands above the outer edges of the eyes and are stored in a lachrymal sac on either side of the bridge of the nose. And if you want to get really technical, there are three different types of tears: basal tears, which are constantly produced to keep the surface of the eyes moist; reflex tears, which are the extra tears produced when something enters or irritates the eye; and psychic tears, which are those produced as a response to a mental or emotional stimulus.

10. MASTICATION

Mastication is the proper name for chewing. Etymologically, it’s descended from a Greek word literally meaning “to gnash your teeth,” and is related both to mandible and papier-mâché (which is literally “chewed paper” in French).

11. NICTITATION

Nictitation is the proper name for blinking or winking, and comes from an old pre-Latin word meaning “to incline or bend together,” just as the eyelids do. That twitching muscle in your eyelid after you’ve strained your eyes? That’s a blepharospasm.

12. OBDORMITION

Obdormition is the proper name for sleeping, but it’s usually only used in reference to the feeling of numbness, caused by pressure on a nerve, when a limb or muscle “falls asleep.” Pins and needles, incidentally, is properly called paraesthesia.

13. PANDICULATION

Pandiculation is essentially a catchall term for all those things you do when you’re tired or just waking up, like yawning, stretching your arms and legs, and cracking your joints. Monday morning, in other words.

14. RHINORRHOEA

When your nose runs, that’s rhinorrhoea. Except when you’re having a nosebleed, which is called epistaxis.

15. SINGULTUS

In Latin, singultus was speech interrupted by sobbing, or an inability to speak caused by crying. Based on this, English borrowed the word singult in the 16th century for a single sob, in the sense of something spasmodically interrupting your speech, and singultus came to be used as a more formal name for hiccups.

16. STERNUTATION

A sneeze or a sneezing fit is properly called a sternutation. Anything described as sternutatory causes sneezing.

17. TUSSICATION

Tussis is the Latin word for “cough.” It’s the origin of both tussication, a formal word for coughing, and pertussis, the medical name for whooping cough.

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35 Words for Hiccups from Around the World
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Hiccup is a perfect specimen of onomatopoeia, a word that sounds like the noise it represents: It echoes that sudden breath (hick-) and spasm (-up) of the diaphragm when, say, we’ve gobbled down food too quickly. But English is far from unique here. If we listen across the globe, we’ll hear all sorts of gasping h’s and gulping k’s, so much so that it almost seems like there’s a universal word for hiccup. Except there are some surprising, er, hiccups along the way. Get that spoonful of sugar, salt, or peanut butter ready, for here are 35 hiccup words in other languages.

1., 2., 3., 4., AND 5. DANISH, NORWEGIAN, SWEDISH, ICELANDIC, AND FINNISH

The English word hiccup (later spelled hiccough) is first recorded in 1580, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. A few decades earlier, English was using the word hicket. This word is a near mirror of the word in Scandinavian languages. Danish and Norwegian have hikke. The Swedish hicka is essentially the same. Up in Iceland, it’s hiksti. And over in Finland—neighbor in geography, though not tongue—it’s hikka.

6. FRENCH

If the French have had too much wine, they might hoquet. The -et, a diminutive ending found in English words like gullet, likely influenced the earlier English hicket.

7. SPANISH

In Spain, you get a bad case of the hipos.

8. AND 9. PORTUGUESE AND LATIN

You’d expect Spanish’s neighbor and Romance-language cousin, Portuguese, to have a nearly identical way of hiccuping, right? Think again. In Portugal, a hiccup is called a soluço, which may sound more like a sneeze to some ears. Soluço appears to derive from a Latin word for the bodily function: singultus, whose g brings back the hiccup’s characteristic gulp.

10. AND 11. ITALIAN AND ROMANIAN

Latin’s singultus also coughs up hiccup in Italian, singhiozzo—proving, yet again, that everything is more fun to say in Italian. Nearby in Romania, it’s sughiț, with that final ț pronounced like the ts in fits.

12. AND 13. WELSH AND IRISH

The Welsh have ig and the Irish snag, which happens to look like that metaphorical hiccup in English, or a “minor difficulty or setback.”

14. AND 15. DUTCH AND GERMAN

Dutch has the straightforward sound of hik, but German has to be different with Schluckauf, literally a “swallow up.” German, though, also has the onomatopoeic Hecker (noun) and hicksen (verb) for these belly bumps.

16., 17., 18., 19., AND 20. RUSSIAN, UKRAINIAN, POLISH, CZECH, AND BULGARIAN

Like the Scandinavian languages, Slavic hiccupingsounds like hiccuping, just more Slavic-y. Russia gets an attack of the ikotas (икота), Ukraine the hykavkas (гикавка), Polish the czkawkas, Czech the škytavkas, and Bulgarian the khulstane’s (хълцане), to let out a few examples from this language family.

21. ALBANIAN

Hiccuping in Albanian, which boasts its own branch in the Indo-European languages, is a bit softer, but it does still feature something of a hiccupy bounce: lemzë (pronounced like lemzuh).

22. GREEK

Before we leave Europe, the diaphragm reflex in Greece can take the form of λόξιγκας, which roughly transliterates to loxigkas.

23. ARABIC

You try to get rid of your حازوقة (hazuqa) or فُواق (fuwaq) in Arabic ...

24. TURKISH

… or hıçkırık (which sounds like hichkerek) in Turkish ...

25. SWAHILI

…or kwikwi around parts of southeastern Africa.

26. YORUBA

Saying you have the hiccups in Yoruba, spoken widely in Western Africa, might actually give you the hiccups: òsúkèsúkèsúkè.

27. ZULU

In South Africa, where the Zulu language is prominent, you might call a hiccup an ingwici—with the letter c representing a click sound.

28. CHINESE

The Mandarin word for hiccup gets right to the back of the throat: , , voiced with a rising tone. The left part of the character, which looks like a squished box, is 口 (kǒu), meaning “mouth.”

29. JAPANESE

Like English, the Japanese for hiccup features a hard k-sound smack dab in the middle of the word: shakkuri (or しゃっくり in kana).

30. KOREAN

The Korean for hiccup is a three-part affair: 딸꾹질, roughly tal-kuk-jil.

31. VIETNAMESE

Slurp down your pho too fast? The basic word for hiccup in Vietnamese is nấc.

32. AND 33. HINDI AND BENGALI

Hundreds of millions of speakers of Hindi in India say हिचकी (hichakee, pronounced a bit like hitch-key). The word is similar in other closely related Indian languages in the region, such as Bengali হিক্কা(hikka).

34. BAHASA INDONESIAN

You might say “Excuse me” throughout Indonesia for your kecegukan, the word for hiccup in Bahasa Indonesian, the Malay-based official language and lingua franca of Indonesia.

35. OLD ENGLISH

A word Old English had for hiccup is ælfsogoða, literally a kind of “elves’ heartburn.” Apparently, Anglo-Saxons believed hiccups were caused by, yep, elves. It turns out that it isn’t just cures for the hiccups that are old wives’ tales.

BONUS: KLINGON

The fictional language of Star Trek’s Klingon is a notoriously guttural language. Most of the words we’ve seen for hiccup across the globe indeed feature such back-of-the-throat g’s and k’s. Yet the Klingon word for hiccup is bur. Let’s chalk that up to biological differences: Klingons are extraterrestrial beings, after all.

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10 Obscure Bride-Related Words to Use During Wedding Season
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These obscure bride-related words make you sound smart as you catch or dodge the bouquet.

1. BRIDELOPE

No relation to the jackalope, this is, as the Oxford English Dictionary puts it, “The oldest known Teutonic name for ‘Wedding’.” Bridelope can also mean the bridal run, in which the bride proceeds to her new home, with or without tin cans attached to the car.

2. EPITHALAMIUM

This is a poem written specifically for a bride and groom, wishing them the best. The word epithalamium is derived from Latin and has a rare variation used in an 1802 letter by Thomas Twining: “He will epithalamise you in person, I suppose.”

3. WEDDINGER

Going to a wedding? Then you’re a weddinger. This term can also refer to everyone in the wedding, including the bride and groom. A use in George Vaughan Sampson’s 1802 book Statistical Survey of the County of Londonderry is characteristic: “After a few days' carousal among the groom's friends, the weddingers move towards the bride's country.”

4. MOTHER'S PRIDE

The silly world of Cockney rhyming slang is always ready with a synonym: mother’s pride is a nice one for bride.

5. AND 6. TOWEL SHOWER AND GREENBACK SHOWER

Towel shower is a regional variation of bridal shower found in the Northern U.S. The Dictionary of American Regional English records an example from back in 1900: “On Monday a ‘towel shower’ was given ... About 40 ladies were present, each bringing a dainty towel, hemstitched or embroidered ... [A]t the close of the afternoon all surrounded the bride and showered them upon her.” On the other hand, a greenback shower involves giving the bride money.

7. AND 8. MORGANATIC AND LEFT-HANDED

A morganatic marriage is a predecessor of today’s prenups: The union involves a member of the nobility and a common person, with the understanding that the commoner will never inherit any of that sweet royal cash. A left-handed marriage means the same, apparently because the left hand was offered ceremoniously in such unions.

9. CALLITHUMPIAN

This term has several meanings, and they’re all boisterous and exuberant. Often, the word applies to merrymakers who are celebrating a noisy holiday such as New Year’s or July 4. But other times, a callithumpian parade is making a racket for a wedding—but not always in support. A description in an 1848 Bartlett book of Americanisms describes a strange scene: “Callithumpians ... On wedding nights the happy couple are sometimes saluted with this discord by those who choose to consider the marriage an improper one, instead of a serenade.”

10. BROOSE

Now here’s a strange Scottish custom which nonetheless must have been entertaining: Broose, since the 1700s, has referred to a horseback race (involving young fellas) from the site of the wedding to the happy couple’s home. The winner would obtain a colorful handkerchief for winning the broose. Sometimes the race is by foot.

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