Pity the poor teacher that has asked her 30 students to each write a paper on what they did on their summer vacation, and now, by golly, she has to actually read all of them. After 15 papers on hanging out at the pool, she is ready to stick a pencil in her forehead, but along come that 16th paper on tandem skydiving that pulls her away from the brink.
Such will be the case with the faithful reader of the alphabet blogging series. After reading countless “U is for Understanding” and “U is for Usefulness” posts, I will bail you out with “U is for Uvula”. Yes, that’s right – uvula. And don’t pretend like you don’t have one. Even the most gorgeous supermodels and the most important world leaders have to deal with their uvulas on a daily basis.
Before you go reaching for that censor button, the uvula is merely that slender tissue projection that hangs down from the back of your throat. Chances are you only notice it when you feel a sore throat coming on and you look in the mirror, open your mouth and go “aaaaggggghhhhhh”. The uvula is not to be confused with the tonsils, which are on either side of the uvula. The word uvula is of Latin origin, literally meaning “little grape”. According to Wikipedia, it can also be called “dangly ball, punch bag, or gully whopper”.
Like the tongue, the uvula helps with the pronunciation of human speech, particularly the more guttural sounds that some of us humans make. Apparently, guttural sounds are not used much in English, but the Central European languages (such as German) really get the uvula wagging, as is shown in the following sentence:
Gunther spilled sauerbraten on his lederhosen while driving his strassenkreuzer.
(Note: This blog is not responsible for damage to readers’ uvulas.)
The uvula is also heavily utilized in central African languages, which employ a series of clicking sounds to produce different consonants for words:
Central African Person #1: Click, click, click, click.
Central African person #2: Click, click, click?
Central African Person #1: Click, click, click, click, click, click!!!
(Note: By now, you should feel a tightening in your uvula.)
In some areas in Africa, the presence of the uvula is a cultural issue, and it is either totally removed or reduced in size. But this ritual is not nearly as bizarre as people in the Americas and Europe who occasionally volunteer for “uvula piercings”, with either a bead or ring hanging from the end. In classic understatement, Wikipedia provides the following on uvula piercings: “As the piercing is not usually visible, motivations for receiving it are usually very personal”. Ya think?
The uvula can also, unfortunately, contribute to heavy snoring and sleep apnea, which, in severe cases, may medically necessitate the removal of part of the uvula. This procedure is called (and I am not making this up) an uvulopalatopharyngoplasty.