It is time again for the Word of the Week! (Seriously – better title, anyone?)
Today I'll tell you about my favorite body part. (Mmmm... the possibilities!) Authors do a lot of interviews (mostly written, thank goodness, since I'm an incompetent speaker.) Invariably on the list is a question about our favorite whatever – book, author, color, food, footwear, mollusk. I hate these questions because I can never answer them honestly. It's hard for me to think in absolutes. I don't know what my favorite anything is, and even though I know the question is just a prompt and an excuse to talk about myself I over-think it and end up, delirious, swearing my favorite color is mud.
But favorite body part is a little easier because it is also one of my pet words – philtrum. It is a body part few people consciously notice, yet in its adorable declivity helps to define a face's beauty. The philtrum is the little dimple beneath the nose and above the lip, a kissable place. The word comes from the same origin as philter (or philtre) – a love potion – and before that from the Greek philos (dear, beloved, loving.)
Philtrum is one of those words I manage to work into every book (though I can't say for sure whether it survived the many editorial red pencils of doom.) Mustaches curl on philtrums like contented caterpillars, people caress their philtrums in contemplation. The philtrum is a self-soothing spot, too – notice how wee thumb-suckers stroke their philtrums.
Uvula, (“little grape” from Latin uva) is another pleasing body word, but hard to work into conversation. It is a useful thing to teach your four-year-old, though, for showing-off purposes. (Did you know people pierce their uvulas? One more thing to give me the willies.) And I recently learned the handy word panniculus, which allows a person to do the rude and inexcusable and talk about how fat someone is without them realizing it. (No, I don't, but I know people who do, and I forced them to remember this word which I hope is obscure enough so at least I'm not constantly sinking into a puddle of mortification. If you can't change people's bad habits, at least you can make them less obvious.) A panniculus is overhanging stomach fat, and is medically classified by how far down it depends. If the privities (another favorite word, which I got to use frequently in the Restoration-era Ladies in Waiting) are still visible it is a Grade 1 panniculus; if the knees are covered, a Grade 5.