As we enter the second week of the 2014 Tournament of Champions, we turn most, but not all, of the way back from the humanities to the sciences as we take a look at ANATOMICAL ETYMOLOGY. We’ve all got lots of parts, and most of us know the names of most of them, but how many of us know where those names come from? I have no idea, but for the next two weeks we can at least get a little closer to that goal I’m sure just everybody has set for themselves.
Jeopardy! category: ANATOMICAL ETYMOLOGY (12-11-2014)
$400 clue: From the Latin for “to hang”, it’s the thin, closed tube with no known function that hangs from the large intestine
The gist: Just like a little pointy finger at the end of your colon.
Your appendix is really pretty gross. The organ is properly called the “vermiform appendix,” which offers another bit of gross etymology: “vermiform” means “wormlike,” which is really the best possible description of the appendix. As for the “hanging part,” the Latin verb is “pendere,” which also gives us other hangy words like “pendulum” and “pendant,” plus a whole slew of words coming from “append,” and you can see how hanging something off something else could easily lead to the sense of adding on.
Anatomically speaking, of course, we’re not quite sure what the appendix is or was ever for, which is usually the one thing people know about it. One formerly popular theory among anatomists and evolutionary biologists posited that it is a vestigial version of an old cecum, the large bit of the intestine in herbivores where tough plant matter sits as it’s broken down by bacteria. Charles Darwin, in his Descent of Man, put forward the theory that some distant ancestor of ours ate tougher plants than we do now, including a lot of leaves, which need to be digested for a long time to get any appreciable amounts of nutrients out of them. However, a recent study has shown that appendixes are not more common in animals with ceca than in animals without, putting us very much back to the drawing board when it comes to the organ’s evolutionary history. A more recent theory has suggested that the appendix may play a role in maintaining healthy gut flora, the innumerable microscopic critters that live in our insides and take care of many of the processes of life we can’t do on our own.
The clue: A human organ with an unknown function? Yeah, that’s gonna be your appendix, pretty much without a doubt. You really don’t need to know anything about what the appendix actually is, or where it’s located, or that it does indeed “hang,” to get this one. A classic low-value anatomy clue.
In Jeopardy!: The appendix appears in 40 regular and one FJ! clue in the J!Archive, and nearly all of them, as does this one, mention that it’s useless. The other common thing mentioned in the clues is that it’s “vermiform,” although just one want to know what the word actually means. Those two facts cover almost all the regular clues about the organ. The FJ! clue is about the Madeline books, which were inspired by a girl who had her appendix removed in a France hospital.