What’s Between Your Eyebrows?

The human temple

People rarely take the time to notice, much less appreciate, their bodies. When they do, it’s usually a cursory nod to the most obvious physical structures—skeletal joints, skin, muscle, vital organs that need repair. But, there’s more to the human temple than that . . . like the space between the eyebrows, that stringy thing under the tongue, or “the anatomical snuffbox.” What other vastly under-recognized parts of the body are there?

Glabella

The tract of land between the eyebrows is called the glabella. The word literally means “without hair, smooth, bald,” but in the social history of faces, this landmark has, by turns, boasted a healthy crop. Unibrows were all the rage in Ancient Greece and Rome, when women used powders to transform their naked glabellas into sooty bridges for their brows. The unibrow has since fallen out of style and so the glabella fell into obscurity.

Rasceta

From a Latinized Arabic word related to the "palm of the hand," rasceta are the little crinkly wrinkles or creases at the wrists (with hands palm-up). In palmistry, rascette lines have significance. People usually have three creases at the wrist; working down from the base of the palm, the first is an indication of health, the second prosperity, and the third influence in the community. A rare few possess a fourth rascette line. If you do, get ready to live beyond 100 years (and watch the three-liners die off).

Philtrum

Running from the tip of the nose to the top of the upper lip is a sweet little groove called the philtrum. This is an oddly cute pet-name option for a couple who’s turned off from the conventional “honey” and “baby” because in Latin philtrum means “love charm.”

For most mammals, the groove helps deliver information about scent and wind direction to the brain, yet the human philtrum has no real purpose. It has made appearances in mythology and popular culture though: Humphrey Bogart’s character in Key Largo tells of angels who share the knowledge of the heavens with unborn babes, but one tap of the upper lip seals them to silence.

Gnathion

In widespread depictions, a witch is characterized by a long pointy nose and an often equally pointy gnathion. From the Greek gnathos, meaning “jaw,” the gnathion is the lowest point of the midpoint of the lower jaw, also known as the upside-down peak of the chinny-chin-chin.

According to face-reading or personology experts, a person with a pointy chin is stubborn. Watch out for those with a very pointy chin and long front teeth; these folks are especially pig-headed.

Axilla

If you’ve ever wanted to describe those cozy dens under your arms with a term that doesn’t conjure up large holes in the ground or “pits of despair” à la The Princess Bride, axilla is the word. In addition to referring to the underarm area (ok, we’ll say it, armpit), the Latin axilla also signified the underside of a bird’s wing. The word axilla should be used more often; likening the human arm to a wing is a much more uplifting connection and definitely not the pits.

Canthus

Ancient Egyptians, Liz Taylor, Brigitte Bardot, and Nina Simone were right on trend with their embellishments of the canthus, the outer point at which the upper and lower lids meet. All it takes are a couple careful sweeps of black liner to create the appearance of an elongated canthi (plural). The inner corners of the eye also go by the same name.

Ancient Greek also used canthus to refer to the corners of the eye, but related terms in Latin signify the "edge of a wheel” or the “rim.” “Brimming eyes" are filled with tears that overspill the canthus (“rim” i.e., "brim").

Purlicue

Make an "L" shape with your thumb and forefinger and the space between is called the purlicue. This word has a number of additional disparate meanings, including “any trifle or oddity.”

The etymology of purlicue is vague, but some relate it to curlicue; incidentally, the word purlicue also shares curlicue’s meaning: a looping flourish in writing. Purlicue is also suspected to be a modified version of the French pour le queue, or “for the tail” (referring to the sweeping tail of an embellished letter). How the purlicue came to be the "L-for-Loser" gap is unclear, though.

Tragus

A 1690s definition of tragus superbly sums it up as the “eminence at the opening of the ear.”  The tragus is that “eminence” of bouncy, resistant cartilage that protrudes just outside the ear hole. Essentially, it’s the thing you close while yelling “Lalalalala” so you don’t hear what your taunting sibling is saying.

The ear is a bumpy terrain, and each hill and valley has a name. Tragus comes from a Greek word meaning “he-goat” because of the tuft of hair resembling a goat’s beard that sometimes grows in that spot of the ear.

Hallux

It seems like whenever a person’s in a mad dash to go somewhere, fate has other plans, like a spilled coffee mug, misplaced keys, or a stubbed hallux. Those named Alex might want to look away, because the word hallux is a distortion of allex, meaning “great toe” in Latin.

The hallux is the most weight-bearing toe of the foot. Also, the region in the brain that processes sensory information from the feet is right next to the region linked to the genitals. Big-toe fetish, anyone?

Lunula

Eager to explore newly-invented glossy nail lacquers, vogue women in the 1920s maintained a “moon manicure,” by decorating the entire nail bed save the crescent-shaped lunula, the milky arc at the base of the fingernail.

As luna is Latin for “moon,” there couldn’t be a better name for the manicure or the curved feature of the fingernail. The “lunula manicure", or “half-moon manicure," is still popular today, made contemporary with pops of metallic or bright, contrasting colors to showcase the design.

Frenum

At some point on a workday afternoon when productivity is nonexistent, a usually hardworking employee might chew the pen cap for a while or mindlessly play with the stringy thing under the tongue, the membrane called the frenum.

Latin for “bridle," frenum is related to the word refrain; the frenum of the tongue refrains or restricts the tongue’s movement so it’s not flopping down the gullet. Frenula are located throughout the body, including the male and female genitals. But, that type of frenum-exploration isn’t allowed in the workplace.

Anatomical snuffbox

First of all, the snuffbox was non-anatomical before it became a designation for a feature of the human body. Snuffboxes are at least as old as the word that describes them (about 400 years). These are pocket-sized containers for snuff, powdered tobacco “snuffed” or quickly inhaled through the nose to get a hit of nicotine.

The snuffbox became anatomical, courtesy of the little hollow place formed by the outstretched hand. The "anatomical snuffbox," or the triangular-shaped depression at the base the thumb (with fingers fully extended) formed a perfect dimple or hollow for users to pack with snuff and then snuff the stuff. Or, sniff the snuff?

Dimples of venus

These twin depressions are sometimes visible on the small of the back (or, in crude terms, above the butt crack). The label highlights the historical association of these marks with Venus, the goddess of love and beauty. Not everyone has them, but people who do may have an easier time reaching orgasm during sex. The dimples are a sign of good circulation in the pelvic region.

Although the medical profession recognizes the name "dimples of Venus," the Latin fossae lumbales laterales ("lateral lumbar indentations") offers a less amorous name better suited for the examination room.