In a Word: Philtrum

February 28, 2011|By John McIntyre, The Baltimore Sun

Each week, The Sun's John McIntyre presents a moderately obscure but evocative word with which you may not be familiar — another brick to add to the wall of your working vocabulary. Use it in a sentence in a comment on his blog, You Don't say, and the best sentence will be featured next week.

This week's word: PHILTRUM

Here's an opportunity to become better acquainted with your own body. Touch your philtrum.

It's the little furrow, common to all mammals, that runs from the nose to the upper lip. In medicine, it is called the infranasal depression, a term that lacks the romance of the older term.

Philtrum comes from the Greek philtron, that in turn deriving from philein, "to love, to kiss." Apparently the Greeks found the vertical groove on the median line of the upper lip (See how little romance there is in medicine?) an erogenous spot.

Philtron has another English descendant, philter or philtre, a noun for a potion or drug with the power to excite sexual passion toward a person. It often turns up as love-philtre.

So when you touch your philtrum, show it a little respect.

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