From the archive:

Muscle comes from the Latin for "little mouse", musculus (the diminutive of mus).

Two explanations are usually given for the peculiar transformation of mouse to muscle. One has it that the movement of a contracting muscle under the skin is reminiscent of a mouse moving beneath a rug; The biceps brachii is typically used as an example. The other explanation is that, in the abstract at least, some muscles look a bit like mice: specifically those with long, thin tendons (the mouse tails) emerging from oblong muscle bodies. The muscles of the forearm are among many that are illustrative.

The second explanation is as plausible as the first, Although neither seem compelling. But why any relatively large muscle would be called a little mouse in the first place remains a mystery. (A sense of humor on the part of early anatomists cannot be ruled out!). In any event, it could easily have been muscles of dissected animals and not humans that were were the inspiration for the name.

Interestingly, mussel (the mollusk) is also derived from musculus, perhaps because some species have the shape of a mouse ear.

The difference in spelling between "muscle" and "mussel" is due to the different post-Latin paths taken by musculus. Muscle comes to us through French; mussel came out of Old English.

The little mice of the anterior forearm: some imagination may be required. From Henry Gray's Anatomy of the Human Body, 20th ed. (1918) via Bartleby.com

A couple of musse
ls doing their best to impersonate mouse ears. From www.town.barnstable.ma.us

1 comment:

Cam said...

:) Interesting blog...as a med student these things help to lighten the burdensome nature of the sheer volume of details we must learn about our own human anatomy. Keep it up!