Caput (Part 1)

If you couldn’t tell by my extensive yet roundabout descriptions using Ancient Greek quotes from my last post, today’s Wordy Wednesday is all about the caput. That is how you say “head” in Latin. I’ve honestly been so excited about this part of the body since most of my work before has been headless fragments. After all of the notes and having many a staring contest with a skeleton, I’ve finally got some eye-opening info that’ll make your head explode. I’m not sorry for these terrible puns.

This idea sparked something interesting when I started to sit down and translate the parts of the skull into English. I primarily thought of the double words we have in English, one a Germanic root (English is at heart a Germanic language, surprise!) and the other a Latin-based word. In this regard, the Germanic words sound more plebeian than the aristocratic Latin-derived word. This video I really enjoyed that explains the concept with pictures! It is this concept of an association with a group of words that I am bringing to anatomy. For me, the homey words of the skull refer to it being related to the home in the same way that “cow”, “answer”, and “need” were related to the language spoken by the farmers.

If the torso is a protective shield against our heart, then what is our head? It is the home of our thoughts. Our brain lives there. And though there unfortunately isn’t a bone or part of our skull that translates to “couch” or “2 bedroom loft with large windows overlooking the city,” the general theme of these words are still quite homey.

In this first part of Caput, I’ll specifically focus on the wonders that are the neurocranial bones. The word neurocranium is a combination of two Greek words, νεῦρον (neuron) and κρανίον (kranion), meaning “tendon” and “upper part of the head” (or simply just skull). These two both create a home for what’s inside of our head, a literal translation of the word ἐγκέφαλος (egkefalos) which means “brain.”

So what is in a home? What makes a home a home? Well, these questions can kind of skyrocket into a long talk about quality of life, socioeconomic status, and politics, BUT we are just here to talk about the basics of home decor:

  • A roof over your head
  • 2 side walls
  • A clock
  • Front door
  • Back door (or back wall if you don’t want a backyard)
  • A fridge
  • 3-4 bedrooms with some windows
  • Some stairs

BAM! You have a home. Now to get into the nitty gritty of the neurocranial bones! The skull is made up of 8 bones fused together. For artistic anatomy we probably only need to worry about the first 5 since the ethmoid bone is deeper in the skull. I have below the names of the bones as well as their meaning.

  1. Frontal (1)
    • frontalis = of the forehead (from frons, “forehead”)
  2. Parietal (2)
    • parietalis = belong to walls (from paries, “wall”)
  3. Temporal (2)
    • temporalis = belonging to the temples of the head (from tempus, “time, season, the vital spot, side of the head near the eye”)
  4. Occipital (1)
    • occipitale = belong to the back of the head (from ob, “against”, and caput “head”)
  5. Sphenoid (1)
    • σφηνοειδής (sphenoeides) = wedge-shaped (from frons (sphen), “wedge” and our lovely ειδής (eides) “likeness”)
  6. Ethmoid (1)
    • ἡθμοειδής (ethmoeides) = like a strainer (from ἡθμός (ethmos), “strainer, colander” and ειδής (eides) “likeness”)

So looking at these words, I hope the “house” analogy is starting to sink in. But to sum it all up the skull bones essentially can be reduced to a forehead bone, two walls, two “clocks” and a back wall. About the clocks, though… I was so puzzled by the word temporalis and had to think about why this word had a double meaning. The word tempus, aside from meaning temples of the head, also means “time” (think temporary): “time of day”, “it’s time to go.” All those meanings can be expressed with tempus. With the phrase “the vital spot”, if you hit someone there it’ll be the perfect spot (the right place, aka a fatal spot, aka don’t hit anyone there cuz it’ll really hurt them).

But even then I was stumped as to the time aspect of this bone, as in hours, minutes, seconds….A CLOCK. All these other bones that look like an object have the word -oid attached to it, but I feel like this bone looks like a sundial. Do you think so? Maybe not, but perhaps the zygomatic bone protruding out can be compared to the dial..who knows. One reason I thought of this is because the area of the brain that the temperal bone protects is the temporal lobe, which aids in processing visual memories. And naturally, damage to the temporal lobe is very catastrophic. So far this has been the only way I can associate some aspect of time with the temporal bone. I find it fascinating the drastic change in meanings from the torso to the skull, and there is still more to go! I haven’t even covered the actual face yet, but remember the Latin-based versus Germanic (fancy versus basic) word analogy because it’ll come in handy for Caput Part 2!

Also next week I’ll be in Italy (WOOOOT!) so I’ll be writing some first-time-in-Italy, maybe I’ll try and write things in Italian…we shall see.

Ci vediamo!

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