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Welcome to the Greenwood.Net Curiosity Corner

Eye Teeth and Pigs

May 18, 2020

Curiosity Corner
Dr. Jerry D. Wilson,
Emeritus Professor of Physics
Lander University

Question: What are eye teeth? (Asked by a curious dentist.)

Reply: Well, they have nothing to do with seeing. Mammalian animals (including humans) have four cuspids in a set of adult teeth, two up and two down. The upper two are sometimes called canine teeth, or fangs. These are easily seen in dogs—the relatively long, pointed teeth on each side of the mouth in the upper jaw. They are used for holding food, tearing it apart and biting. They are the longest, sharpest teeth in the mouth, hence the name “fangs.”

In humans, these upper cuspids are commonly referred to as “eye teeth.” Why? Because they are positioned under the eyes. Maybe you’ve also heard the phrase, “I barely got away by the skin of my teeth!” No, teeth don’t have eyes, and they don’t have skin. The skin reference comes from the biblical Job 19:20, which reads, “My bone clings to my skin and my flesh, and I have escaped by the skin of my teeth.”

Question: Guinea pig. Why Guinea and why pig? (Asked, naturally, by the owner of a Guinea pig.)

Reply: For the pig part, they sort of look like pigs, don’t they? However, when first given the Latin species name, “Cavia porcellus,” the latter word means “little pig.” It was the custom of the day to name small creatures “pigs.”

The “Guinea” part is somewhat of a mystery. First, the animal doesn’t come from Guinea in West Africa, but from the Andean region of South America. Did it cost a guinea (British coin) to buy one? Doubtful. It may have had to do with the early sailing routes from Europe to Africa, and then to America. Who knows?

In the twentieth century, Guinea pigs were commonly used in scientific experiments. That’s why being “the Guinea pig,” is synonymous with having something tested on you that has not yet been tested on others.

C.P.S. (Curious Postscript): “I like long walks, especially when they are taken by people who annoy me.” –Fred Allen

Curious about something? Send your questions to Dr. Jerry D. Wilson, College of Science and Mathematics, Lander University, Greenwood, SC 29649, or email jerry@curiosity-corner.net. Selected questions will appear in the Curiosity Corner. For Curiosity Corner background, go to www.curiosity-corner.net.

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