Carnal Knowledge

A Navel Gazer's Dictionary of Anatomy, Etymology, and Trivia

Charles Hodgson

St. Martin's Griffin

From head to toe to breast to behind, Carnal Knowledge is a delightfully intoxicating tour of the words we use to describe our bodies. Did you know:
-eye is one of the oldest written words in the English language?
-callipygian means "having beautiful buttocks"?
-gam, a slang word for "leg," comes from the French word jambe?
A treat for anyone who gets a kick out of words, Carnal Knowledge is also the perfect gift for anyone interested in the human body and the many (many, many) ways it's been described.
"Delight your friends (or lose them rapidly) with this fabulous new knowledge presented with deftness and wit."
---Lynn Truss, author of Eats, Shoots and Leaves and Talk to the Hand

"Master etymologist Charles Hodgson offers a passionate lesson...illuminates how just about every part of the amazing human chassis got its name."
---Richard Lederer, author of Word Wizard
"A near-perfect body of work that will not only entertain your brain but tickle your funny bone, too."
---Erin McKean, editor in chief, The New Oxford American Dictionary (2nd ed.)
"More than a list of anatomical words and their meanings, Hodgson's book fleshes out the meaning behind the words. This is a blood-and-guts encyclopedia, not some bone-dry dictionary…. Even misologists (haters of knowledge) will find pleasure in Carnal Knowledge."
---Robert Hartwell Fiske, author of The Dictionary of Disagreeable English, Deluxe Edition
"And you thought you knew your own body! A captivating trove of facts and history that will amuse and fascinate."
--- Jane Farrow, Wanted Words, CBC Radio
CHARLES HODGSON is an engineer by training and a logophile (word lover) by habit. He produces a daily blog and podcast for word lovers at www.podictionary.com.


Read an Excerpt

Chapter One Annulary • Your annulary is your ring finger. The word comes from the Latin annulus, meaning "ring." Annulary entered English in 1623 from a French translation of The theatre of honour and knighthood; or, a compendious chronicle and historie of the whole Christian world, by Andrew Favine. This same document tells us that this same finger was once called the "physician finger," from the Latin digitus medicus, and that it was also called the "leech finger," since doctors were known as "leeches" before they were called "physicians." Curiously, both doctors who drew blood


Praise for Carnal Knowledge

 “Like the tiny submarine in the 1966 film classic Fantastic Voyage, Charles Hodgson's Carnal Knowledge takes us on a strange and wonderful tour through the human body. Here, though, the vessel is language itself: the body of words that we use to describe the various lobes, appendages, organs, and squishy things that we are made out of. Until I read Carnal Knowledge, I had no idea that my gnathion and menton were one and the same, that dandruff used to be called furfur, or that the first recipient of a cornea transplant was an antelope. Always witty, and ever informative, Carnal Knowledge puts the fun back in fundament!”
--Mark Morton, Author of Cupboard Love and The Lover's Tongue

“For over two years Charles Hodgson has wittily dissected the English language on Podictionary. Now Podictionary’s voice comes to print in Carnal Knowledge. This book is a must for anyone who speaks—or has a body.”
--Dave Shepherd, producer and co-host of the podcast The Word Nerds

"BODY LANGUAGE: It’s bold to give a word book the lip-smacking title “Carnal Knowledge,” and indeed, Charles Hodgson’s new book is more accurately described by its subtitle: “A Navel Gazer’s Dictionary of Anatomy, Etymology, and Trivia.”

But there is ample pleasure, if not titillation, in the lexicographer’s approach to human anatomy. In 1300, for instance, blink wasn’t “to close an eyelid” but “flinch” or “escape” — “the sense blink still has when we say that a soldier or cop doesn’t blink when facing danger.” Wisdom teeth have roots in Rome’s dentes sapientiae. The leading edge of your nose is the dorsum, or “back.”

Not that Hodgson ignores the naughty bits. Between the infraclavicular fossa and the jugular notch is jugs, 20th-century slang with a past that may involve a milk pitcher. Tail and tush get their historical due. But their tales don’t always top the ones about meldrop (think runny nose), calf (think pregnant cow), or Senator Ambrose Burnside’s gift to the language, sideburns.

--Boston Globe

"Finally A Book About…Body Language:  As Charles Hodgson’s entertaining Carnal Knowledge: A Navel Gazer’s Dictionary of Anatomy, Etymology and Trivia (Fenn) points out, even the tiniest parts of our bodies have names. Few people will be aware, for instance, that the wrist depression between the two tendons connected to the thumb is known as the snuffbox. Or that the words “testicle” and “testify” are related because of where men used to put their hands when swearing an oath."

--Macleans Magazine

"Be careful. While engaged in omphaloscopy and smirking with your Cupid's bow, you might stub your hallux and scrape your Girdle of Venus - no fun for someone who is easily hurt.

Confused? You won't be if you read "Carnal Knowledge: A Navel Gazer's Dictionary of Anatomy, Etymology and Trivia" (St. Martin's Press, $14.95). In it, Charles Hodgson, an engineer by trade and a word lover by avocation, explores the words we use when we talk about our bodies.

Hodgson, who runs the daily blog and podcast www.podictionary.com, explores the derivations and meaning of words that describe body parts from head to toe and the naughty bits in between.

You will learn why using the term "fanny pack" might raise eyebrows in England, and that the word dandruff appeared in written English as far back as 1545.

Hodgson writes in a clear, often amusing style and draws interesting connections between a word's origins and its current use.

Best of all, he provides lots of information on how each body part works, expanding his discussions well beyond the word's history.

Oh, and those mysterious words in the first paragraph? Omphaloscopy is the ogling of an attractive person, a Cupid's bow is the curve of an upper lip, a hallux is a big toe, and those with a Girdle of Venus on the palm are said to be sensitive folks."

--Hartford Courant Newspaper

Reviews from Goodreads



  • Charles Hodgson

  • CHARLES HODGSON is an engineer by training and a logophile (word lover) by habit. He produces a daily blog and podcast for word lovers at www.podictionary.com.
  • Charles Hodgson


Available Formats and Book Details

Carnal Knowledge

A Navel Gazer's Dictionary of Anatomy, Etymology, and Trivia

Charles Hodgson

  • Trade Paperback



St. Martin's Griffin