Sorry for the late post, folks. Things got in the way.
Jeopardy! category: ANATOMICAL ETYMOLOGY (12-11-2014)
$2000 clue: Though it doesn’t look like one, the name of this piece of flesh that hangs from the soft palate means “little grape”
The gist: When you’re trying to name all the body parts, sometimes you need to be a little creative.
The uvula, properly the “palatine uvula” (because it’s attached to the palate) looks a lot more like a pinkish glob and hanging flesh than it does a grape, even a small one, despite the derivation of its name. But with a bit of imagination, and a need to think of a name you can remember, you could do a lot worse than grape, I’d say – particularly when swollen, which is when most people pay attention to it. Its main function is to flip backwards while swallowing, preventing food and drink from entering the nasal passages, just like the epiglottis prevents food from entering the trachea and airway (and contestant Julia Collins got the two mixed up in giving her response). It also has a phonetic function, being engaged in the formation of certain sounds, like the trilled ‘R’ heard in some examples of sung French. Touching it can also trigger the gag reflex. When something’s wrong with it, it can cause problems ranging from a “nasally” voice (if the uvula doesn’t close properly and excess air from the nasal passages enters the mouth during speech) to snoring and sleep apnea, and it is somewhat prone to irritation that can cause annoying pain and swelling. Finally, having it shake back and forth is handy for cartoonists to show that a character is screaming really, really loudly.
The clue: The uvula is one of those body parts that most people don’t know anything about except for the name, because it’s sort of funny-sounding. It’s also sort of a funny bit of us in general, seemingly just hanging off the back of our mouths like that. I can’t really say whether many people know that “uva” is Latin for “grape” (although it gives us the words for grape in many modern languages like Italian and Spanish), but if you do that would certainly help in figuring this clue out.
In Jeopardy!: That little flap appears in ten clues in the J!Archive. All of them mention the uvula’s location, either hanging off the soft palate in eight clues (including one where it’s the correct response), or more generally somewhere around the throat or the back of the mouth. You’re pretty much guaranteed that a clue about the uvula will mention something like that, so everything else is basically filler. Just keep it separate from the epiglottis, which is a common mistake on contestants’ parts where the uvula is concerned.