Tragus, from the Latin tragos, goat: the skin-covered, cartilaginous flap just anterior to the opening of the external ear canal. "Covering your ears" with your fingers is done by pressing the tragus down over the opening.

The image “http://www.tonyboon.co.uk/imgs/images/goat.jpg” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.
Photo by Tony Boon
The strange etymology seems to be related to the tufts of hair that will often appear on the tragus, particularly in older men, though just how this hair is linked to goats is a matter of conjecture. The most common explanation is that an imaginative ancient Greek anatomist, name unknown, was reminded of the hair on the chin of a goat (the one problem with this idea: the hair on the tragus really doesn't look much like mental goat hair). Or, perhaps, its the stiff, bristly texture typical of the hair that's so caprine. Or, as it's been suggested, in particularly luxuriant cases these hairs might remind one of the animal-like (i.e. hairy) ears of the satyr, the half-man, half-goat of Greek mythology. None of the explanations are compelling, but they're all we got.

Another name for the tragus-hair is barbula, the diminutive of barbus, Latin for beard and the ancestral root of barber, barb, and beard.

Goat or satyr? Barbula on the tragus of a middle-aged man.
Photo by C. Carpenter

A satyr from an ancient Roman woodcut: hardly the image of the sexy satyr usually depicted, but the hairy ear is nice (yes, that is an ear and not the side-hair of a baldpate). Adapted from the Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, 3rd Edition by Anthony Rich. 1874

No comments: