Jeopardy! category: ANATOMICAL ETYMOLOGY (12-11-2014)
$1600 clue: Prone to inflammation, this membrane that covers the eyeball & inner eyelid is from the Latin for “to join together”
The gist: Like the appendix, this is one of those unfortunate body parts most people only know from when things go wrong.
The conjunctiva, the outermost layer of the eye proper, stretches around the front quarter or so of your eyeball, save for a gap in front of the iris and pupil so you can see through it, of course. Its primary function is to keep the eye and the eyelid nice and moist, producing both membranes and a bit of tears to prevent dryness and itching. It’s also got a role to play in our immune system, by preventing microbes from getting inside us through the eye. The crooked red veins visible in our eyes belong to the conjunctiva as well as the sclera found just beneath it.
Inflammation of these bits is what causes the conjunctiva’s most famous trait: conjunctivitis, better known as pink eye. Conjunctivitis has a lot of different causes, including bacteria, viruses, allergies, even parasites (like ticks). In cases of infection, the single best way to prevent contracting conjunctivitis (as well as many other things) is to wash one’s hands, especially while suffering from a cold or other illness, and to refrain from rubbing one’s eyes with dirty hands. In any case, it usually resolves itself after a few days, and rarely causes severe complications.
(Oh, and as for that one scene from Judd Apatow’s Knocked Up [possible NSFW video there for some potty talk]: while feces can contain bacteria that can cause conjunctivitis, it’s very unlikely that they are highly concentrated enough to cause an infection on their own.)
The clue: Conjunctivitis, it seems to me, is one of the better known of the medical conditions that have complicated Latin-y names, but I would still bet that many more people know that than know the term “conjunctiva” – I certainly didn’t. It could figured out by “reverse engineering” the word, but it’s tough to tell exactly where to break the word up, plus you might not know which vowel to put at the end, if any. And sure enough, this one was a Triple Stumper, so kudos to you if you knew it.
In Jeopardy!: Sure enough, “conjunctiva” is in just five clues in the J!Archive, while “conjunctivitis” can boast nine. All the clues mention that it’s part of the eye (in three in the clue, and in the two others “eye” is itself the correct response). Four of the five clues, of course, mention the tissue’s propensity to inflame. There’s not much else to know about it, though. More important to remember conjunctivitis, and hopefully after reading this you’ll be able to derive conjunctiva if it’s needed.