One post in this column mentioned that Spanish uses the noun lenticular as an anatomical term to designate ‘a knob at the tip of the incus bone in the ear of mammals.’ Presumably that knob looks like a lentil, so once again we have a metaphor based on shape. To call the little bone on which the lenticular process (as English calls it) resides is also to use a metaphor based on shape: anatomists chose the word incus as their name for this bone because they saw it as an ‘anvil,’ which is what the noun meant in Latin. That Latin word evolved in Spanish to yunque, which preserves the original meaning of ‘anvil.’ Because an anvil is heavy and difficult to move, Spanish yunque can also mean—and here’s yet another metaphor—’a person who remains steadfast in the face of adversity.’ The idiom estar al yunque has the sense ‘to be bearing up under the blows of another person or of fortune.’ We like to think that fortune is impersonal, but sometimes we have to wonder, don’t we?

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

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If you encounter an unfamiliar technical term in any of these postings, check the Glossary in the bar across the top of the page.
©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
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