The Friday Fillip: Name Your Toes

This little piggy went to the market,
This little piggy stayed home,
This little piggy had roast beef,
This little piggy had none,
And this little piggy cried wee wee wee all the way home.

Yes, but which piggy’s which? Who had the roast beef?

Maybe your brain is too far away from your toes to care. Or maybe the Adam in you is exhausted by the long march down to the foot and falls unconscious at the arch after muttering a brilliant “Big toe, little toe… ” Whatever the reason, your three toes in the middle are innominate and the outside ones are lame-named.

Unless you’re Morton, of course, in which case the toe beside your “big toe” is eponymous when it’s longer than the big toe. (Otherwise, it’s not known as a “short Morton” so far as I know.) But which of us is Morton? And the toe snugged up against the “little toe” might be called the “ring toe”, but let’s get serious: toe rings are so 1970s, so that’s out as a name. Which leaves, boringly, the “middle toe”, cognate with the middle finger but without the same power to offend. Usually. Bit of a dog’s breakfast when it comes to nomenclature, our toes.

Fingers fare better, perhaps because they do more and earn their titles. Index finger is a good name. And thumb is the sort of distinctive name I’d hope for the toes. It’s true that in ancient Rome and in hospitals the big toe is called hallux, which is a major improvement over “big”, and not just because it’s got a sexy X in the name. With fingers “ring finger” makes sense, leaving only “middle finger” standing anonymously. Speaking of Rome, the Latin for the little finger is Auricularis, i.e. the finger for cleaning out the wax from your ear, something the French have adopted sensibly with their l’auriculaire. Now, there’s a naming gone at with a will.

We might, I suppose, neglect the earnest naming of our toes because we’re going to lose the little toe in a few thousand millennia, or so some speculate, from where it’s only a hop, skip and a stumble to hooves. This seems to be something Edward Lear foretold in his poem The Pobble Who Has No Toes.


The Pobble who has no toes
Had once as many as we;
When they said, ‘Some day you may lose them all;’–
He replied, — ‘Fish fiddle de-dee!’

Toes aren’t alone in this business of effete or ineffective naming. The human body is complex, even the parts we can see, so there are bound to be bits that got skipped when names were handed out. And then there’s the matter of figuring out what constitutes a part, because, you should pardon the expression, the baloney can be sliced up pretty much any which way. For a while the little dip under the nose was all the rage because no one knew it’s name; it’s philtrum in med-speak, but still has no common name. And the point between your eyebrows goes nameless, though it’s where you stare when you want to be attentive at a talk and asleep at the same time. What about the web between your thumb and your index finger? Or that small knobby bone that sticks out below your knee and that you discover with alarm from time to time?

But toes are fundamental. And while we may not be able to ape the… other primates with their prehensile feet, we proudly walk upright thanks to our short toes (though the “little toe” sort of dogs it, I gather). When toes cramp, as they sometimes do at inconvenient times, they make their presence felt in no uncertain terms. And if you’ve ever had a foot massage, you know that treating toes with firm kindness is a blessing. So let’s get some respect for toes, which starts, in my opinion, with according them decent names. The Scandinavians seem to have made a start in this direction and, according to the University of Wisconsin’s Children’s Library, are “known for naming toe rhymes,” which is news to me. We can, I think, do better than:

Little Pea
Peter Lou
Oosey Nossey
Toosey tossey
And a Great Big Oppososso

(Norwegians, being the more serious of the Scans, perhaps, offer up these toe names: Lilletåa, tåtilla, tillaros, apalfru and store stygge skrubbehesten i skogen, the last phrase meaning “big ugly scrub horse in the forest,” a great name for the “big toe.”)

So get with the “toegram” and come up with decent, solid names for the ten tiny tentacles that protrude from that front part of the foot, whatever it’s called. Think of the branding opportunities.

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