[ muhs-uhl ]
/ ˈmʌs əl /
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any bivalve mollusk, especially an edible marine bivalve of the family Mytilidae and a freshwater clam of the family Unionidae.
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Origin of mussel

before 1000; Middle English, Old English muscle<Vulgar Latin *mūscula, variant of Latin mūsculus little mouse, sea mussel. See muscle
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023


Where does mussel come from?

Take a quick gander at your muscles. Do you think they look anything like … mice? And do you think mice resemble  mussels, as in the edible mollusk? This may sound odd to you, but to the ancient Romans, it would have made perfect sense.

This is because both the words muscle and mussel come from musculus, which literally means “little mouse” (mus means and is related to “mouse”).

As far as we can tell, the ancient Romans thought that the movement of a muscle, especially when flexing, looked like a mouse was running under your skin. If you don’t know how muscles work, it sounds as reasonable a guess as any.

Now to the mollusk: the ancient Romans apparently also thought that mussels, the shellfish, looked like little mice. The word mussels also comes from that same Latin noun as muscle: musculus.

The roots of these other words may get a rise—of laughter or surprise—out of you. Run on over to our roundup of them at “Weird Word Origins That Will Make Your Family Laugh.”

Did you know … ?

To recap, a mussel is a kind of shellfish and a muscle is a part of the body—neither one are mice. Mussel is a collective name for more than 1,000 species of this type of mollusk. Some species of mussels are eaten as food. This is also the case for other animals that mussels can easily be confused with: clams, oysters, and scallops.

Besides their use as food, mussels are also sought after by humans because, like oysters, they create pearls. But zebra mussels are an invasive species that can harm other animals and clog water mains, resulting in millions of dollars being spent to remove them.

How to use mussel in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for mussel

/ (ˈmʌsəl) /

any of various marine bivalves of the genus Mytilus and related genera, esp M. edulis (edible mussel), having a dark slightly elongated shell and living attached to rocks, etc,
any of various freshwater bivalves of the genera Anodonta, Unio, etc, attached to rocks, sand, etc having a flattened oval shell (a source of mother-of-pearl). The zebra mussel, Dreissena polymorpha, can be a serious nuisance in water mains

Word Origin for mussel

Old English muscle, from Vulgar Latin muscula (unattested), from Latin musculus, diminutive of mūs mouse
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012