Thursday, 20 November 2014

'Cochleae musculique canens....

(...alive, alive-o'.)

I have written before about musculus (the wrong sort of mussel I know, but give a chap a break). Here's the relevant bit:
...Another adjective - one of my favourite derivations and demonstrating again Guy Deutcher's 'reef of dead metaphors' idea (mentioned in another post) - is 'muscular', from mus ('mouse')/musculus ('little mouse'), which is the way muscles looked to Early Romans - at least the ones who didn't get within gawping distance of auspice-reading: a little metaphorical mouse scampering about under a carpet.

See the rest here (not a bad-un, though I say it as shouldn't)
I was talking to an Audiologist the other day (no, really) and asked her whether she knew the derivation of cochlea – the little doofer in the inner ear that's caused so much soul-searching among the deaf community: to implant or not to implant... She was holding a take-to-bits-able model of one side of the top half of a skull, and I had had an idea about the possible derivation of 'cockle'. (More of this in a paragraph or two.) I wondered if, like the hippocampus (named after a sea-horse, which is what it looks like), it was named after a sea-creature.

She said she wasn't sure, but probably something like 'spiral' (which is its shape). I was temporarily disappointed; anything so geometrical seemed a bit too obvious (and indeed, quite likely; geometry works OK for the trapezius and the deltoid muscle). But I had been misled by my hippocampus idea. What it looked like was a snail (OK a SPIRAL but also... crawling doggedly (if a snail can be dogged) across the inner ear.

But my disappointment didn't last long; when all else fails, try a dictionary is my motto.  So I looked in my old mistreated nineteenth-century Latin dictionary – one word, apart from the usual lexicographical impedimenta: SNAIL. And then there is a parenthetical '(Hence It. chiocciola)'. My Italian dictionary, for chiocciola, also gave that single word. But then it gave me my current favourite for Charming Image of the Year (narrowly beating the French trombone [='paperclip']): a spiral staircase is una scala a chiocciola. Isn't that lovely?
<digression>
... which reminds me. In Secrets of the Castle the other day, the stone-mason planned a spiral staircase with 12 steps going round a full circle. Now I  have something to look for when visiting castles around the world: I wonder if 12 steps per revolution is a universal...
</digression>
Returning to those cockles.  A cockle is a bit spirally, but not much. Whereas a snail is much more cochlea-like; so much alike that you'd be forgiven for saying 'Greetings, small mollusc' in the ENT operating theatre. See?

See original here

Etymonline says 

...from Greek kokhlias "snail, screw," etc., from kokhlos "spiral shell," perhaps related to konkhos"mussel, conch."
And when I first had my 'cockle' idea I set a lot of store by that 'perhaps...'. But I'm happy to stick with 'snail'. And the Audiologist was right-ish; the snail got its name from its shape (kokhlos). but the cochlea got its final diphthong from the Latin for snail.

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