BODY LANGUAGE: It's bold to give a word book the lip-smacking title "Carnal Knowledge," and indeed, Charles Hodgson's new book is more accurately described by its subtitle: "A Navel Gazer's Dictionary of Anatomy, Etymology, and Trivia."
But there is ample pleasure, if not titillation, in the lexicographer's approach to human anatomy. In 1300, for instance, blink wasn't "to close an eyelid" but "flinch" or "escape" - "the sense blink still has when we say that a soldier or cop doesn't blink when facing danger." Wisdom teeth have roots in Rome's dentes sapientiae. The leading edge of your nose is the dorsum, or "back."
Not that Hodgson ignores the naughty bits. Between the infraclavicular fossa and the jugular notch is jugs, 20th-century slang with a past that may involve a milk pitcher. Tail and tush get their historical due. But their tales don't always top the ones about meldrop (think runny nose), calf (think pregnant cow), or Senator Ambrose Burnside's gift to the language, sideburns.
Be careful. While engaged in omphaloscopy and smirking with your Cupid's bow, you might stub your hallux and scrape your Girdle of Venus - no fun for someone who is easily hurt.
Confused? You won't be if you read "Carnal Knowledge: A Navel Gazer's Dictionary of Anatomy, Etymology and Trivia" (St. Martin's Press, $14.95). In it, Charles Hodgson, an engineer by trade and a word lover by avocation, explores the words we use when we talk about our bodies.
Hodgson, who runs the daily blog and podcast www.podictionary.com, explores the derivations and meaning of words that describe body parts from head to toe and the naughty bits in between.
You will learn why using the term "fanny pack" might raise eyebrows in England, and that the word dandruff appeared in written English as far back as 1545.
Hodgson writes in a clear, often amusing style and draws interesting connections between a word's origins and its current use.
Best of all, he provides lots of information on how each body part works, expanding his discussions well beyond the word's history.
Oh, and those mysterious words in the first paragraph? Omphaloscopy is the ogling of an attractive person, a Cupid's bow is the curve of an upper lip, a hallux is a big toe, and those with a Girdle of Venus on the palm are said to be sensitive folks.
From head to toe to breast to behind, Carnal Knowledge is a delightfully intoxicating tour of the words we use to describe our bodies. Did you know:
-eye is one of the oldest written words in the English language?
-callipygian means "having beautiful buttocks"?
-gam, a slang word for "leg," comes from the French word jambe?
A treat for anyone who gets a kick out of words, Carnal Knowledge is also the perfect gift for anyone interested in the human body and the many (many, many) ways it's been described.
"Delight your friends (or lose them rapidly) with this fabulous new knowledge presented with deftness and wit."
---Lynn Truss, author of Eats, Shoots and Leaves and Talk to the Hand
"Master etymologist Charles Hodgson offers a passionate lesson...illuminates how just about every part of the amazing human chassis got its name."
---Richard Lederer, author of Word Wizard
"A near-perfect body of work that will not only entertain your brain but tickle your funny bone, too."
---Erin McKean, editor in chief, The New Oxford American Dictionary (2nd ed.)
"More than a list of anatomical words and their meanings, Hodgson's book fleshes out the meaning behind the words. This is a blood-and-guts encyclopedia, not some bone-dry dictionary…. Even misologists (haters of knowledge) will find pleasure in Carnal Knowledge."
---Robert Hartwell Fiske, author of The Dictionary of Disagreeable English, Deluxe Edition
"And you thought you knew your own body! A captivating trove of facts and history that will amuse and fascinate."
--- Jane Farrow, Wanted Words, CBC Radio
CHARLES HODGSON is an engineer by training and a logophile (word lover) by habit. He produces a daily blog and podcast for word lovers at www.podictionary.com.