or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Sunday, December 23, 2007


When you're blessed with a manly overabundance of testosterone, as Jim and I evidently are, then you're going to start losing your hair sooner or later, as Jim and I definitely have. (My hairline started its slow march back towards the occipital lobe when I was 21.) So why pay for a haircut when they're just going to buzz the whole thing down to a quarter of an inch anyway? No combovers for us! We got one of those home-haircut devices we call a dog trimmer--one of these things--and every six or eight weeks we just buzz it all off, standing in the tub to catch the clippings. Yeah, a real high-class operation, but it saves a few hundred bucks a year, and nobody can tell the difference anyway.

So after I cut my hair, I call in Jim to do the stuff I can't see (the back of the neck and around the ears, mostly), and as usual, one or the other of us has to make a joke about being maimed (perhaps the person wielding the trimmer will say, in a Monty Python accent, "Oh, that's your ear off, sir--terribly sorry"). This time, I yelled, "Ow, my jugular!", and as soon as I'd said it, I naturally needed to know where "jugular" came from. As it turns out, I already knew, but apparently I was too dazed from the trauma of cutting my hair to remember.

Jim proposed (entirely jokingly--he's not an idiot) that it was related to "jug" because it carries a large quantity of blood from the brain. Well, no, but points for creativity. Dictionary.com tells us that it comes from Latin "jugulum", which means "throat" and is pretty useless, because obviously "jugulum" itself has to come from somewhere, right? Still, it's a start, because the jugular vein is, in fact, in the throat, or at least the neck.

"See jugulate", I'm advised, and so I do, and that's where the treasure lies, even though "jugulate" is not a word you are ever likely to have any use for: it means literally "to cut the throat of", or, by metaphor, "to suppress disease through extreme measures". Like cutting the throats of all the infected, one would have to assume. And it means this because "jugulum" comes from "jugum", which means "yoke".

Aha! That's where I'd seen it before! "Subjugation" literally means "under the yoke", because animals which are tethered to a machine for farm work are yoked by their necks.

Of course, if you're going to ask about the jugular, you have to ask about the carotid, too. (The jugular is a vein, which means it carries blood to the heart for oxygenation: the carotid is an artery, so it carries oxygenated blood from the heart to a body part, in this case the head.) "Carotid" comes from a place you probably would not expect, or rather a place you would expect but in a direction you wouldn't.

The Indo-European root of "carotid" is "ker-", which refers to the head (it gave us "cranium") or to horns, which grow out of the head ("unicorn" means "single horn"). But "carotid" is not called that because it supplies blood to the head, exactly: the name doesn't stem directly from the head. Instead, it comes from the Greek "karoun", "stupefied", literally "heavy-headed", because when you compress the carotid, you cause someone to become dazed and soon unconscious from lack of oxygen.


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