Five Things You Probably Don’t Know About Your Body

- May 27th, 2010

Da_Vinci_VitruvianMan

I don’t mean YOUR body, specifically (you should know more about your body than anyone else, except maybe your doctor).

I’m referring to the human body in general. Humans have far more in common as a species than differences, so maybe this is all about you, me and us — specifically.

goose-bumps

1. GOOSE BUMPS

You know what goose bumps are — when your skin’s crawling and your flesh gets all bumpy like the skin of a, well, plucked goose, and the hair on your arms and your neck bristles.

You have no control over the sensation and it occurs as a natural reaction when you are cold or experience a sudden strong emotion like fear or shock or excitement.

The technical name for goose bumps is cutis anserina. Since “cutis” is Latin for skin and “anserina” derives from “anser” (Latin for goose), the formal name for goose bumps really is “skin of the goose.”

Why wouldn’t they have called it “chicken bumps” since a plucked chicken’s skin looks much the same as a plucked goose? Well, the goose effect is more pronounced but the main reason is that geese were the most common domestic fowl when the phrase was coined.

The involuntary mechanical action that causes goose bumps is called the pilomotor reflex.

Our bodies are almost entirely covered by hair (more about that later) even if the hairs are so minute you don’t really know they’re there. And attached to every single one of those hair follicles are tiny muscles just waiting to get an emergency alert from the automatic nervous system to tense up and jerk all those hairs, large and small, erect.

It’s actually the same process a porcupine goes through when it is alarmed and arrays its needles against an enemy.

Now the reaction may be a necessary survival technique for porcupines, but it does human beings no earthly good.

It seems to be just a carry-over from when we were much hairier mammals. The erect hair would trap more warm air near the skin (thus cold as a stimuli) and also make a puffed-up hairy animal look larger (that’s where the fear and surprise triggers come in).

We usually get goose bumps most strongly on the forearms, but the effect can happen anywhere on the body, including the head, legs and nipples (on both men and women).

2. HAIR, HAIR, EVERYWHERE HAIR

As I mentioned before, human beings are literally covered with hair from head to toe.

The only parts of our body that don’t have hair follicles are our lips, the palms of our hands and the soles of our feet. Even places you don’t think have hair do have hair — it is so just so fine you can barely see it with the human eye.

So how many individual hairs do you think you have on your body?

Well, obviously there is quite a range from person to person, but we do have round numbers.

First, though, let us just consider the hairs on our heads. As a rough average, a normal adult has about 100,000 hairs on his or her scalp. That figure can range from 140,000 down to 90,000 — or less if you’re balding.

To a large degree, the colour of your hair determines how many strands of hair you have. Red hair is the thickest and has fewest number of strands (90,000-98,000), followed by black, brown and blonde — with blonde being the scrawniest but having the greatest number (120,000-140,000).

Women’s hair is only about half the diameter of men’s hair, by the way.

I guess there are grad students somewhere counting hundreds of thousands of hairs on thousands of test subjects to come up with scientifically acceptable stats like these. All I can think is, thank gawd it’s not me (either counting or being counted.)

So now that we know how many hairs are on the head, we should be able to extrapolate the total for the whole body.

I would have said 400,000-500,000. But I would have been wrong. Vastly, terribly wrong.

The scientists who keep track of these things tell us there are between 5 MILLION and 8 MILLION hairs on any given body. I get goose bumps all over my body just thinking about it.

armpit-sniffer

3. ARMPITS

Well, from hair it seems like a short jump to armpits (to me anyway).

Most people have two of ‘em and the basic model comes equipped with hair — lots of hair — and sweat glands — lots of sweat glands.

The same scientists who count body hair also tell us the average adult human body has about two million sweat glands in the skin. I don’t know the exact number, but a lot of them are concentrated in the armpit.

As a result, the dark, hot, hairy armpit is a veritable garden of Eden for bacteria. Our friends the scientists have found up to 516,000 bacteria per square inch mulching around in an armpit, compared to about 13,000 on your forearm or someplace else that is drier, less hairy and more exposed to air and sunlight.

(Just to really freak you out, your tongue is coated with far more bacteria than your armpit.)

The armpit also has a formal Latin medical name — axilla — although I don’t know why “armpit” isn’t good enough for most purposes.

It does help, I guess, when you’re giving names to related things. Armpit sex, for example.

Yes, Virginia, there is a certain proportion of the population that becomes wildly aroused by the sight of and contact with armpits. So like every other human sexual proclivity, this one has been given a name — axillism (I thought that meant being a fan of Guns’n’Roses — but then maybe it does too).

But just to throw a wrench into the works, “axilla” is nowhere to be found when those freakin’ scientists give a formal name to the state of having smelly armpits — that’s “tragomaschalia.”

It does have its advantages when you’re talking to an odourously challenged co-worker or family member: “My, you’re quite the tragomaschalian today, aren’t you?” (The pronunciation is trago-mas-kal-ian.)

Avril-Lavigne-butt-2003mmva-muchmusicwarrentoda

- MuchMusic/Warren Toda photo

4. PLUMBERS BUM OR BUTT CRACK?

Now why on earth did plumbers get this bum rap?

What about electricians or doctors or Starbucks baristas? Don’t any of them ever squat? Wouldn’t it be more appropriate to call it “gardeners bum” or plain ol’ “squatters bum”?

Anyway, I just thought you’d like to know the formal name for butt crack. It’s sometimes called the “natal cleft” but I prefer its more common technical name —“intergluteal cleft.”

Now that’s a body part name you can sink your teeth into — intergluteal cleft.

I think it’s actually possible to say it without laughing like a nine-year-old, too.

Try it out loud: INTERGLUTEAL CLEFT.

Each bum cheek, by the way, is a “gluteus maximus” (which I think you already knew), thus the inter-gluteal cleft.

You’ll be glad to know there is also a formal word for the state of having enormous buttocks — macropygia — and the state of having beautifully shaped buttocks — callipygia.

And yes, dammit, a macropygian butt can very definitely also be callipygian.

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(The extreme accumulation of fat on the buttocks has even another name — steatopygia.)

By the way, the slang word “keister” comes from the German “kiste” which means container or crate. In 19th-Century American criminal slang, “keister” referred to a burglar’s tool bag. So if a burglar was sitting on his keister, he wasn’t using the tools of his trade and earning his loot.

I think I’ve gone about as far as I can go with this one.

DavidBowieEyes

5. HE’S GOT DAVID BOWIE EYES

You know the pupil of one of David Bowie’s eyes is much larger (usually) than the other. It happened when teenager Bowie (well, his name was David Jones then) got punched in the left eye during a fight over a girl with pal George Underwood.

It wasn’t a hard punch, but it did a lot of damage and doctors feared at first that Bowie would lose the eye. He didn’t, but the left eye was left permanently dilated.

The condition is called mydriasis, the “morbid dilation of the pupil of the eye.”

The iris in both of Bowie’s eyes is the same colour (sort of blueish, although the lousy colour balance on so many photos might lead you to think otherwise) but the left eye seems much darker because the pupil is wide open all the time. He doesn’t see very well out of it, either, with lack of depth and colour perception.

Speaking of eyes and colour, here’s something completely off topic from David Bowie: There is a condition in which people “see” specific colours when they hear words, letters and numbers.

People with this condition actually have their own colour-co-ordinated alphabets — and no two people “see” exactly the same colour for each letter.

It’s a much more common condition than you would think.Our friends the scientists estimate that one in every 2,000 people has it to some degree. And about 90% of them are women.

An example of this, I’m told, is that when someone sees the word “chair” they might see it in blue. If the word “chair” was printed in red or another colour, the person would feel the word was wrong.

Similar conditions exist in which people see colours when they hear music. Likewise, other people smell sounds, see smells and hear colours.

The overall name for the experience is synaesthesia, which refers to the cross-over of sensation as a stimulus activates two of an individual’s senses instead of one. As many as one in a thousand people are believed to have synaesthesia in some form.

And for a final shift of gears, everyone knows that all babies are born with blue eyes that usually change colour quite quickly. I don’t know if there’s some strange completing of the circle, but the colour blue becomes the most difficult to see as one ages.

BONUS: LEFT, RIGHT, LEFT, RIGHT

I imagine most people “know” that right-handers supposedly live longer than lefties — eight or nine years is usually the cited difference — but it’s just not true.

The most complete study of the issue was published in 1993 in the American Journal of Public Health and found no statistical variance in the death rates of left- and- right-handed people.

But did you know that your right shoe supposedly wears out faster than your left shoe? That applies to righties and lefties equally, I’m told, although I think my left shoes wear out first. I think the real difference-maker is which of your legs is longer.

And the right lung takes in more air than the left — unless (and this explains it) you’re one of those people with your heart on the right side, in which case the lung thing is reversed.

Now here’s one I have not been able to prove or disprove. I really rather doubt its veracity, but it has a certain poignancy so I’m going to pass it on: When you’re crying with happiness, the first tear comes out of the right eye’s tear duct; when you’re crying from pain or sadness, the first tear comes from the left.

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(This probably plays off Egyptian mythology in which the left eye represents Horus and the moon while the right eye represents Re and the sun. I personally prefer the happy-sad dichotomy.)

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6 comments

  1. Charles Wilson says:

    Did you know, that the very expensive wine called Osoyoos LaRose made in BC’s Okanagan valley, is grown in a vineyard beside the Osoyoos dump? Maybe this is why it is only marketed in Quebec and Ontario. Vincor has partnered up with a French wine maker to produce this exceptional Land Fill delicacy which will be released in a documentary soon. But, of course, it will not show the dump!

  2. CDNshe says:

    Now pray do tell what wine has to do with this most interesting article? And by the way I live in the Okanagan Valley and you are leading people to believe what? That the landfill leachate is seeping into the roots of the grape vines. Please get your facts and distances straight in the future.
    Awesome article.

  3. M Rios says:

    Thanks for the very interesting and informative article! I’m glad I came across it

  4. murogrign says:

    Great Blog. I add this Post to my bookmarks.

  5. Katherine R says:

    This article is really interesting. I was actually trying to google search the origin of the term “butt crack”, where it came from or who coined it. I’m deeply saddened that I didn’t find it, but the origin of the term “keister” helped ease the pain.

  6. Samantha A. says:

    This is a very fascinating article with some believable things! But the one about happiness when you cry from your right eye, isn’t true. I guess it could for some people but I had just cried recently from my right eye and I can promise it wasn’t anything happy.

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