The Origins of Oddly Named Body Parts

The foot bone’s connected to the leg bone, the leg bone’s connected to the knee bone…….who hasn’t heard “The Skeleton Dance”? When the ancient Greeks were naming body parts, they were probably trying to give them names that were easy to remember, but sometimes the names get a little more abstract. You might find yourself wondering why the back of your lower leg has the same name as baby cow, or why the bottom of your foot has the name of a fish. Here are some of the unexpected origins associated with our oddly identified body parts.


Calf: This one is a coincidence. The baby cow — calf — and the back of the lower leg are homographs, words with different origins that ended up spelled the same. The bovine word is from Old English “caelf,” while the anatomical term comes from the Old Norse word “kálfi.”

Sole: The fishy and the fleshy “sole” are related. Sole, meaning the bottom of a person’s food, entered Middle English from the Latin “solea,” meaning “sandal,” which is derived from solum, meaning “bottom.” The fish is named for its shape… the bottom of a foot.

Palm: What does the inner surface of your hand have to do with trees you might see on a beach? In ancient Rome it was customary to place a palm leaf in the hands of the victor in a contest. The Latin word “palma,” meaning “palm of the hand,” became associated with the tree.

Iris: Why does the colored part of the eye have the same name as a flower? The colorful ring-shaped membrane of the eye and the flower both take their name from Iris, the goddess of the rainbow in Greek mythology.