Jeopardy! category: ANATOMICAL ETYMOLOGY (12-11-2014)
$800 clue: No insult intended, but the name of this muscle means “biggest butt”
The gist: Don’t worry, the name doesn’t mean you have the biggest butt.
The gluteus maximus muscle is just the biggest out of the four gluteus muscles, followed by the gluteus medius (or “middle butt”), gluteus minimus (“littlest butt”), and the more confusingly-named tensor fasciae latae, which is actually the smallest of the four. But the gluteus maximus isn’t just the largest of the glutes, as they’re known, it’s also the largest and most powerful muscle in the human body. That’s because it has some big, heavy jobs to do. First, it’s responsible for anything involving bending at the knee, whether that’s bringing the leg up while standing, or crouching into a squat (and the associated burn). This is partly why standing up throughout the day can be so good for you, because it activates the largest muscle you’ve got). More importantly, however, it’s what keeps our pelvis pulled back and our body in line with our legs – that is, it’s (most of) what lets us walk upright, and (much of) what sets us apart from our knuckle-walking and climbing primate cousins, who have much flatter hips and butts than we do. It’s also at work while you’re just standing around, helping you keep your balance. Since it’s possible that Homo sapiens’ upright posture was one of the major drivers of our evolution, letting us see further-off predators and prey in our grassland environment, giving us access to higher-up plant foods, and giving us our near-unique marathon running abilities, we can all thank our butts for helping us along to where we are today.
The clue: Gluteus maximus seems like a pretty well-known muscle (for its size, its location, and/or its comedy value), so the writers didn’t feel the need to add any hints other than just what the name means. Instead, they took the opportunity to write a butt joke, which I will always respect. Your mileage may vary.
In Jeopardy!: The gluteus maximus has been in a frankly disappointing ten clues in the J!Archive. Three of them are about it being the biggest muscle in the body, and two more are about it being the biggest muscle in the butt. Three clues give “maximus,” “medius,” and/or “minimus” and want “gluteus” as the correct response. And four have some sort of pun that might be considered rude if you have very refined sensibilities. Know where it’s located and that it’s the biggest, and you’ll be fine – the hardest part is probably memorizing the Latin name, but I believe in you.