Flirty repartee, French-style: technical terms for the mandible

You don’t think you can have flirty conversations about the mandible? You haven’t been to France.

La partie inférieure de la mâchoire, ou la mandibule: the mandible. Picture source:

Even more than soccer, flirting is often said to be France’s national sport.  I like it–it’s fun, and (so far) a harmless way to practice my French.  So, I was chatting with a girl over a cup of coffee in a café by the Museum of Comparative Anatomy and Paleontology one day (no, I’m not making that museum up–along with the Pergamon in Berlin and the British National Museum in London, it’s one of my favorites in the entire world, and I can’t even imagine how many hours I’ve spent there) when she said something that made my ears perk up: she mentioned la partie inférieure de la mâchoire.  The “lower part of the jaw:” what you and I probably know as the mandible, and most French speakers as la mandibule.  

On the surface, the jaw doesn’t look that interesting.  One bone, with a pretty simple hinge on each side.  It’s got a lot of subtleties, though, and if you look at how jaws vary across species, a jaw can tell you a lot about an animal.

Picture source:

Let’s look at the “gross anatomy” first–the basic parts.  In many species, the mandible has two main parts: the body, and the ramus.  The body is the part that’s parallel to the ground, and the ramus is the part that goes up vertically.  We’ll go through the French vocabulary now, rather than at the end of the post, because it’s essential to understanding my flirty ways.

  • la mâchoire: the jaw; jawbone.
  • la partie inférieure de la mâchoire: the lower part of the jaw. The official term for the mandible.
  • la partie supérieure de la mâchoire: the maxilla–again, the “official” term.
  • la mandibule: mandible.
  • le maxillaire: maxilla.
  • l’articulation temporomandibulaire: temporo-mandibular joint.
  • la branche de la mandibule: the ramus of the mandible.
  • le corps de la mandibule: the body of the mandible.

Why it made my ears perk up when she said la partie inférieur de la mâchoire: as far as I know, that’s the technical term for the mandible, versus la mandibule, which I believe to be more general language.  How often do you meet someone whose idea of witty repartee includes throwing around technical terms for bones?  Of course, then a bum walked by.  Blah blah blah blah, you gotta blah blah for me? 

What’s a blah-blah? …I asked my terminologically gifted new friend.  He wants a cigarette, she replied.  And what does blah blah blah blah mean? 

“Kevin Costner”–he called you Kevin Costner.

How the fuck does he know my name’s Kevin?

He doesn’t–you’re an American, and you’re bald, so…


English notes:

to make someone’s ears perk up: to make someone suddenly interested in what you’re saying.  How it was used in the post: She said something that made my ears perk up: she mentioned la partie inférieure de la mâchoire. 

repartee: (Yes, this is an English word.)  Witty conversation that goes back and forth.  From Merriam-Webster: conversation in which clever statements and replies are made quickly.  How it was used in the post: How often do you meet someone whose idea of witty repartee includes throwing around technical terms for bones?


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