Sunday, March 29, 2009

What’s A Nice Bone Like You Doing In A Joint Like This?

I sprained my ankle a couple of days ago, so I guess I’m simply joint conscious at the moment. Any way, I started thinking about the words that we use to name various major joints.

The word joint itself is quite transparent. It’s a junction, the place where two bones join. The Latin jungere meant to join, and that’s the source.

Ankle evolved from the Latin after being sieved through Frisian, Dutch, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, and other cousins. A bent crook, claw, or hook is the image evoked. Dangle your ankle in the ocean, and you just may catch a shark.

Knee came from the Greek word for knee after filtering though a number of Teutonic influences. A flexible word, it was applied metaphorically through the centuries to an angular piece of timber or metal, a piece connecting the bench and runner of a sleigh, the lower end of a handrail, or a degree of descent in a genealogy.

The hip joint had Old Teutonic and Old Gothic precedents meaning, quite directly, the hip. In architecture, it’s a projecting inclined edge on a roof, extending from the ridge or apex to the eaves, and having a slope on each side.

The word elbow breaks into two components. The el- segment comes from the Latin ulna, the large inner bone of the forearm. The -bow segment comes from Frisian/Teutonic/Norse words meaning something bent.
Shoulder tumbled through the usual northern language suspects meaning the two arm joints near the neck. Of all the joints, it probably had more figurative uses than any of the others. Recall straight from the shoulder, shoulder of the road, a shoulder to cry on, shoulder to the wheel, and shoulder surfing.

SIDEBAR: Skeletal Joints

Now available from McFarland & Co.: Word Parts Dictionary, 2nd edition

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