Tag Archives: Latin

The advantages of being a knuckle dragger

21 Mar

The term ‘knuckle dragger’ colloquially describes a person who exhibits a lack of intelligence. That expression is used to evoke the imagery of a gorilla or chimpanzee as a lesser evolved form (I take issue with that generalization, but more on that later). Still, it is accurate to observe that gorillas do walk on their knuckles. The question is why?

That’s a two-part question. Why does an ape walk on all fours as opposed to standing upright? The short answer is because their bodies have evolved that way. Take a look.

92849-034-83081108Skeletally and muscularly, gorillas are built to move quadrupedally. If you want to read more about the specific ways that gorillas and humans differ, there’s an excellent post that addresses this question on Anthropology.net here.

Fine, but why does a gorilla walk on it’s knuckles as opposed to it’s open hands? Again, it comes down to physical advantage. Let’s look back at the wrists of the gorilla. Walking on it’s knuckles keeps the joints of the hand and the wrist aligned. This is a biomechanically neutral position, putting far less stress on the joints than opening up the hand and striking the ground with the palms and extended fingers.

Bonus Fact: Some weightlifters and martial artists suggest performing pushups on the knuckles as opposed to the traditional form. The benefits: Reduced stress on the wrists and finger joints. The downside: The knuckles develop calcium deposits over time, and the wrist muscles have to develop in order to stabilize the position.

Finally, knuckle dragging is not a less-evolved trait of humans. Ardipithecus Ramidus, one of the hominids descended from the common ancestors of gorillas and humans, walked upright but did not also knuckle walk. As a result, scientists believe that knuckle walking was a trait developed after our ancestral tree had split into two separate branches.


A time before clocks

13 Mar

Clockwise and counterclockwise are well established terms now, but before clocks were common objects how was rotational motion described?

To describe what we would now call clockwise, the Scottish used the term Sunwise. This relates back to the prior time keeping device, a sundial, and the fact that the Scottish lived in the Northern Hemisphere.


In the Northern Hemisphere, the sun appears in the southern sky and tracks from East to West. As a result, the shadow on a horizontal sundial tracks from West to East through the North. When clocks replaced sundials, they adopted this traditional sense of rotation.

The Scottish also described clockwise motion with terms related to Deiseil, derived from the Latin dexter, meaning ‘on the right-hand side.’ This is because clockwise motion around an object keeps the right hand toward it (important if you are carrying a sword in said hand).

The Scottish term for counterclockwise was widdershins, related to the German weddersinnes, meaning ‘direction opposite the usual.’ It seems that counterclockwise has again been defined as being the other direction.