T-shirts, I-beams, and decussation

It’s not unusual to refer to an object using a letter of the alphabet whose shape resembles that object. Maybe the most familiar example is the T-shirt. Spanish uses different words for that item in different countries, with camiseta probably being the most widespread. Still, Spanish speakers in the United States do often say T-shirt, and according to Wikipedia so do speakers in Panama, presumably because of the long presence of Americans in the Panama Canal Zone. Some T-shirts, by the way, have a V-neck, which Spanish apparently refers to as escote en V.

When it comes to the I-beam, whose cross section gives a capital I with cross strokes at the top and bottom, Spanish says viga en I and also, according to the Diccionario de Arquitectura y Construcción, viga de doble T, where we have to imagine a capital T superimposed on an upside down one.

And what about the decussation, for which Spanish similarly has decusación, in the title of this post? First a definition: in anatomy, a decussation is ‘a crossing of bands of nerve fibers in the brain or spinal cord.’ The term is taken straight from Latin decussātiō, with stem decussātiōn-. The American Heritage Dictionary says that noun was based on decussus, which meant ‘the number ten’ and ‘the intersection of two lines.’ The connection is that the Romans used their letter X to represent the number ten, and that letter consists of two crossing line segments. For more about decussation itself, you’re welcome to follow up with a Wikipedia article.

© 2018 Steven Schwartzman

19 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. shoreacres
    Nov 27, 2018 @ 20:13:36

    Two more come to mind: the C-clamp, and S curves.

    I poked around a little to see if I could figure out whether camiseta and camisole are related. Both garments have the same shape (or did, until camisoles began to show up without sleeves), and I wondered if both might have developed from camisa.

    As for decussation, I couldn’t help wondering if a certain fading coneflower might be said to have had decussative tendencies.


  2. shoreacres
    Nov 28, 2018 @ 07:37:07

    Funny, how the mind works. My first thought on awaking this morning was, “O-rings and D-rings.” The A-frame should have been obvious, but I never thought of that one.


  3. Maria
    Dec 10, 2018 @ 08:23:35

    The Wiki article on decussation was fascinating. It seems nature already has the patterns.

    What also came to mind was the ‘figure-of-eight’ bandage which is ‘vendaje en ocho’, and there is also the ‘cravat’ bandage, aka ‘triangular :
    which is also ‘vendaje en corbata’. I thought you might enjoy that illustration coming from a mathematical background.


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©2011–2018 Steven Schwartzman

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