thorax

There is what you know in your mind, your brain, that soft blancmange encased in your nutshell behind your eyes. And then there is what you know in your heart, your lungs, your liver, your kidneys, your chest – your thorax. Your vitals, your vittles, those meats that animate you and that, were you a cow for the slaughter, would be cut out and packaged by the butcher to sit under the counter forlorn and unasked-of – or used in the making of haggis or hot dogs. We believe ourselves in rational control of our world, but our minds are chiefly used for justifying those motives we feel more primally in our thoraces – what makes the heart race or the liver lunge or the lungs convulse. Never mind Occam’s Razor; we live by Thor’s Ax.

“Thor’s Ax?!” you’re probably thinking. “Thor has a hammer!” Yes, that’s true, he wields the massive hammer Mjölnir, and he also has a belt, some gloves, and a staff, all of which also have names. But listen to this: “Jarnbjorn was the Dwarven-forged battle axe wielded by Thor. Thor used this axe long before obtaining Mjolnir.” Jarnbjorn can cut almost anything, and is indestructible. But eventually, we are told, “Thor lost Jarnbjorn. Kang the Conqueror recovered Jarnbjorn from Baron Mordo’s tomb in Brazil.” Thor eventually got it back: “When Thor could no longer wield Mjolnir after his battle with Nick Fury on the Moon, Thor took up Jarnbjorn once again.”

Does that sound like it might not have come from the Sagas? Marvel, mere mortal! Marvel Comics, I mean. Read all about it on Wikia.

What, are you annoyed about this fictional invention imposing itself on… uh… a fictional invention? Well, fine. If you don’t want it, you don’t have to have it. But you may want to consider this authoritative debate of whether Jarnbjorn is better or worse than Mjolnir.

In the end, of course, you choose your hero – and your hero’s weapon – more from things you feel in your thorax than ones you tally in your cerebral cortex. But the thorax isn’t just your inner Thor with an Ax, ready to attack and defend and cut through anything (especially reasoning). It’s also your inner Thoreau, camping out at Walden, fantasizing about nature, and it’s your inner Lorax, lamenting the loss of that nature. It’s your inner hyrax, too, related to the mighty elephant but really smallish and cuddly.

OK, OK, the overlearning of autodidax can make a person prolix. In the plain world, your thorax is your chest. Your ribcage and what’s within it. That part of your torso that is above the abdomen and below the neck. It attracts its share of attention, to be sure, more on some people than on others. Much of that attention is driven by equipment located closer to the ground, and is often about as welcome as anthrax.

Indeed, the various effects of the thorax can make a person downright waspish. Which is a way of bringing me to what bugs you may think of on the garden path. Insects have segmented bodies; the unpleasant end of a wasp is the abdomen, but the middle part with the legs and wings (and other important things) is the thorax. I’m pretty sure diagrams on insects were where I first saw this word and abdomen.

But if we want to make an insect connection, it should be to not wasps but ants, which in Greek are μύρμηξ murméx, which word is (it is said) related to Μυρμιδών, in Latin Myrmidon, which names a set of warriors. They would all have had thoraces, but not all Greeks would have, because Greek θώραξ meant ‘breast-plate’ or ‘cuirass’ (a double-sided bit of armor for the upper body) – from that it came to Latin as thorax, which had the ‘chest’ sense and came directly to English as such, showing up first in the 1400s (but making the extension to bugs only in the 1700s).

We can say chest or breast, of course. But thorax, being classical, sounds more technical. It also has the soft, heavy start and the cutting end. It is a good name for that part of the body that feels the many cuts of the emotions – and learns to resist them over time.

Unless, of course, they come from Thor’s Ax. That thing can cut almost anything.

One response to “thorax

  1. David Milne-Ives

    Yet another playful and learned post, especially the etymology of entomology, but I’m not wild about “weilds” instead of the later-quoted wield (axe and you will recieve… uh, receive…)

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