or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Skinny

Today I looked up "skin tag" on Wikipedia. I won't repulse you with the reasons for my looking this up (they're not really that repulsive, but still): I'll just say that the medical term for a skin tag is an "acrochordon". Isn't that awful?

So. Obviously Greek, but where does it come from?

The "chordon" part looks as if it must be related to "chord" and therefore "cord", which it is: from Greek "khorde", "gut, string". I don't know if a skin tag is called an acrochordon because it's stringlike*, or because it protrudes like a bit of gut, but there it is anyway. I'm guessing "gut", because skin tags, though usually tiny and floppy nubbins, can actually become as big as golf balls and can also burst, which is something I never want to think about again.

The "acro-" prefix is something you will probably have seen in at least one other word, possibly two. Acromegaly is the medical condition in which the outlying parts of the body, most usually the hands, feet, and facial features, grow unnaturally large. (There may also be internal complications, such as enlargement of the heart and compression of the optic nerve.) And acrophobia is the irrational fear of heights, although, as fears go, acrophobia is one of the more sensible ones.

Given those two words, we can figure out what "acro-" might mean. Since "mega-" means "large", "acromegaly" would seem to mean the enlargement of the extremities, and "acrophobia" would be the fear of extreme heights, so "acro-" ought to mean "extreme" or "extremity", and so it does. And therefore an acrochordon is a bit of skin--a tiny string, a tiny protrusion like a gut from a hernia--which forms a little extremity on its own.

Medical Etymology for Anatomic Pathologists is a gold mine for, well, medical etymology. It's just a starting point, no detail at all, and it's self-evidently incomplete and a bit of a mess, but if you want to puddle around and discover that "sarco-" is Greek for "flesh" (and then realize that "sarcophagus" must mean "flesh-eating", and do the research and discover to your amazement that coffins used to be made of a kind of limestone that would dissolve the body) , or be surprised by the fact that the symbol for the element mercury, Hg, comes from Greek "hygron", "water" (something I did not know), because mercury flows like water, then this is the place to go.

* What's white and stringy?


What's brown and sticky?

A stick.

I'm sorry. I'll stop now.


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