Caput (Part 2: facies)

The moment you all have hopefully been waiting for, another Wordy Wednesday! I have been toying around more with words related to the bones of the head. Last time I wrote about the head I focused mainly on the neurocranial bones from which I derived the “home” analogy.

Now I wanted to dive deeper into the probably more interesting aspects of the head: the face. I, and probably many other artists, struggled with the face and capturing the likeness, but as I ventured further into the study of artistic anatomy the face really grew on me. Still starting this conversation with osteology before myology (or bones before muscles), I will be talking about the specific names of the bones of the face, its etymology and different ways I remember them all.

I made an analogy about the home and I think that still has a bit of relevance for the facial bones. While translating I realized that there are some names which deal with one very specific of human existence: FOOD. We gotta eat to survive and so there is some overlap in bone nomenclature. In my first post on Wordy Wednesday, I mentioned that names in anatomy can describe shape, form, size, location, and function among other things. Besides food, there will be names of facial bones that touch on these other descriptive qualities.

Below are the names of the facial bones along with their translation. I also must note the face is way complicated so there are tons of little bones and nooks and crannies on the inside of the skull that we can see through the nasal bone and through the eye, but for artistic anatomy purposes I’ll skip them.

  • glabella
    • this literally means “smooth”, and refers to the hairless part between the eyebrows
  • arcus superciliaris
    • otherwise known as the superciliary arch, or eyebrow
    • cilium is Latin for eyebrow and super means over (do not confuse with supra meaning on, or on the upper part of something)
  • foramen supraorbitale
    • foramen means “hole” or “opening” in Latin
    • supraorbitale is made up of supra and orbitale, referring to the area on the upper part of the orbital area
      • orbis meaning pretty much what it looks like…orb, has a conceptual meaning of “world” and also “eye”
  • os nasale
    • simply “nasal bone”
  • os zygomaticum
    • zygomatic bone, which also has the zygomatic arch.
      • from the Greek word ζυγόν (zygon) meaning “yoke”
    • attach image of yoke
  • maxilla
    • this word i’s the diminutive of the Latin word mala, meaning jaw or cheek
    • consequently the word mala in Old Norse (and therefore all the Scandinavian languages) means “to grind”
  • mandibula
    • the root word for this word is the verb mandere meaning “to chew”
      • the verb “to masticate” comes to us from Greek (μαστιχάω, mastichao) by way of Latin (masticare)
    • the prefix -bula indicates an instrument with which an action is performed
  • protuberantia mentalis
    • in English this is known as the mental protuberance. This word mentalis, however, does not refer to the mind (Latin mens), but to the word for chin or mentum!
    • protuberantia comes from the verb protubero meaning “to bulge or swell out” (plus the ending -antia turning this verb concept into a noun).
      • there are many words in anatomy that deal with protrusion and this is one of them. Others include tubercle and eminence.

I’m especially fascinated by the words mandibula and maxilla. I went down the rabbit hole and found so many related words that deal with food, cooking, chewing, even making bread! Perhaps these “mand-” and “max- (mags-)” roots have some Proto-Indoeuropean origin that refers to chewing. For example, masso is Ancient Greek for “to knead”, which has a derived word for “cook”, μάγειρος (mageiros). The Greek word for “cake”, or μᾶζα (maza), is the derivative of the word “mass” in English. The same Greek word is the derivitive of the Latin word massa meaning “kneaded dough.” BREAD IS EVERYWHERE.

Now what exactly do I mean by overlapping of nomenclature in regards to bones? Essentially my theory is that if a name doesn’t deal with a topographical or physical characteristics, then it will most likely refer to how one gathers food, likening to parts of animals, or chewing. Mostly chewing, to be honest. We all love food, and so did the Greeks and Romans, as there is a nice smattering of chewing-related words in both languages all up in our face.





I think I’ll soon do a post covering a good portion of the axial skeleton (head, ribcage, and pelvis) before heading to the lovely extremities! Stay tuned for the next Wordy Wednesday!

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