SOLAR PLEXUS.

I was reading one of gilliland‘s wonderful posts, Jul. 11th, 2012 (in exhilarating Russian, like all of them), where after discovering the phrase таёжный богатырь ‘mighty warrior of the taiga’ (anybody know the original source? Google tells me it’s applied to Yakuts, Russians, and bears) I came to grief on “на уровне солнечного сплетения” ‘on the level of the sunny… interlacing?’ I got a good laugh on looking it up and discovering that солнечное сплетение [sólnechnoye spleténie] means, and is the literal equivalent of, ‘solar plexus,’ plexus being the past participle of Latin plectere ‘to plait, twine, interweave.’ But this led to another question: why the devil is the solar plexus called that? The dictionaries say it’s so named because of its radiating nerve fibers, but I’d be curious to know the history of the term. (It’s properly called the celiac plexus, celiac meaning ‘of the cavity’; I hadn’t known that either.)

Comments

  1. The WiPe say that the coeliac plexus is behind the stomach:

    The celiac plexus is often popularly referred to as the solar plexus, generally in the context of a blow to the stomach. In many of these cases, it is not the celiac plexus itself being referred to, but rather the region where it is located.

    It is behind the stomach and the omental bursa (??). Surely a good way to learn practical Latin – plectere for instance – would be from a series of adventures stories about explorers in the body – a combination of Gulliver’s Travels and Fantastic Voyage in Latin. Histories of medicine contain tons of fabulous information that could be used.
    Your post made me think of Henry Miller’s Rosy Crucifixion: Sexus, Plexus, Nexus (never read them). To my mind, overfed on the generalities of Advanced Thinking, there is not much difference between plexus and nexus: plectere is braid, nectere is bind, says MW. As a medical term, plexus seems to be used for bundles of nerves. Is there a matching lunar nexus somewhere inside ?

  2. I’m a little doubtful about the conventional claim too. In particular, many of the plexi can be identified with various traditional chakras, and the traditional color associated with the solar-plexus chakra is yellow. I do not find it explicitly linked to the Sun, but that doesn’t look like a complete coincidence.
    I tried to find out if there was a corresponding lunar plexus, but of course it would be a band name — that swamps everything.

  3. Gilliland (aka John Shemyakin) is by far one of the best Russian bloggers. Totally love his posts!

  4. Wiki.fr says that I thought: the nerves evoke solar rays. There are also some files related to yoga where speak about chakras as solar plexus chakra.

  5. And as for “таежный богатырь”, Google also suggests that the name is sometimes applied to cedars, especially growing in Siberia. Cedars can be really high, hence the metaphor.

  6. the nerves evoke solar rays
    Note that almost all visual presentations of anatomy, throughout history and even in modern medical works, are schematic. As a non-medical layman, peer into an open body (TV documentaries will help you here): what you “see” is a bloody mess. What the anatomist “sees” is rather different, because he has learned different conventions of seeing.
    Solar rays and X-rays evoke different things for different purposes. Both are artefacts, just as is the Ding an sich. Constructivism itself is an artefact. Thank you for your attention.

  7. I have always liked that some organs with etymologically opaque English names (opaque, that is, to those of us who don’t know Greek or Latin) have transparent names in Russian – like the plexus in solar plexus, or the thyroid, щитовидная железа.

  8. German has that pleasant feature too. Who can remember what an oesophagus is ? But a Speiseröhre is just a food pipe. Of course there’s also Ösophagus for when you want to get fancy.

  9. OED2’s first citation for the use of plexus in that sense (and it’s a sense very familiar to anyone used to anatomy) is from 1682: “T. Gibson Anat. 19 Fallopius will have it to proceed from the superiour and inferiour plexus of Nerves of the Abdomen.” I’m sure the mediaeval anatomists used the term, but Google Books isn’t co-operating with me and I can’t cite them from memory in Latin.
    Cf. also my comment here on anatomical translation and Russian bzw. German.

  10. To the layman “solar plexus” just generally means “that place under the ribs where, if you land a good punch, you can knock the wind out of somebody,” whereas to an anatomist, it’s a tangle of (autonomic) nerves. Still, I’ve been browsing Gray and Netter, and damned if I can see a radiant sun in the celiac plexus. It looks like a clot of yarn, just like every other nerve plexus.
    (I suspect the solar chakra is a yellow herring, though.)

  11. Aidan: I remembered your quote from Rogozov describing his self-appendectomy, and just now read a bit more about it in the internet. Absolutely remarkable man.
    Dale: damned if I can see a radiant sun in the celiac plexus. It looks like a clot of yarn
    Are you sure that the inventor of the expression “took it literally”, or was “describing what he saw” ? Do any representations of the sun – think of the Louis 14 emblem, or a bristly circle like a child learns to draw – look like what you see in the sky on a bright day ?
    Does a tall building look like it’s scraping the sky?

  12. Off topic, a question for science fiction readers.
    When I was 13 back in the early Fifties, I read a short story the title and author which I’ve never been able to recall. I remember the author was a medical doctor and the heroes were white blood cells.
    What impressed me was that from the POV (to be current and cool) of the leukocytes everything between the oral and anal sphincters was outside the body.
    Does this ring a bell?

  13. …from the POV (to be current and cool) of the leukocytes everything between the oral and anal sphincters was outside the body.
    This is true from a developmental topological perspective (we are a torus) and from a microbiological perspective (vast numbers of commensal bacteria live in our gut, but they’re strictly not permitted to go through its walls into the interior of our body).
    I don’t know that story, though.

  14. I assert for My Self that I do not behold the outward Creation & that to me it is a hindrance & not Action; it is as the Dirt upon my feet, No part of Me. “What,” it will be Questiond, “When the Sun rises do you not see a round disk of fire somewhat like a Guinea?” O no, no, I see an Innumerable company of the Heavenly host crying “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty.” I question not my Corporeal or Vegetative Eye any more than I would Question a Window concerning a Sight: I look thro it & not with it. —William Blake, “A Vision of the Last Judgment”

  15. Right on, John !

  16. >Grumbly Stu
    Other curious word in Anatomy is “duodenum”, obviously from Latin (“duodeni”, twelve each), and related to the length of that intestine part. In the hymn attributed to St Thomas Aquinas, “Pange lingua”, you can read “cibum turbae duodenae” (lit. “as food to the crowd Twelve”), here used as a number.

  17. megazver says:

    Ha-ha! You *did* read his blog!
    Told you he was good. 🙂

  18. Are you sure that the inventor of the expression “took it literally”, or was “describing what he saw” ? Do any representations of the sun – think of the Louis 14 emblem, or a bristly circle like a child learns to draw – look like what you see in the sky on a bright day ?
    Right, but the question is not “why does the solar plexus not actually look like a sun?” but “why did whoever named it call it that, considering that it looks nothing like a sun?” The answer might, for instance, have to do with some long-forgotten medieval theory comparable to that of the humors, but it is almost certainly not “they picked a name at random.”
    Told you he was good. 🙂
    Yes, and I thank you for putting me on to him; he’s a daily joy to read. I don’t know how he finds time to write so much and so well, though!

  19. Right, but the question is not “why does the solar plexus not actually look like a sun?”
    I can’t find in my comments anything that might be construed as a claim that “the solar plexus does not actually look like a sun”. I asked: “do any representations … look like …”. The answer I expected to get was: “Well, yes and no”.
    The answer might, for instance, have to do with some long-forgotten medieval theory comparable to that of the humors,
    Exactly. And possibly not even a “theory”, but more a convention, like the bristly circle the child draws. But the bristly circle is not drawn any old way, and historical conventions are unlikely to have arisen by coin-tossing.
    but it is almost certainly not “they picked a name at random.”
    I nowhere suggested that this is what happened. Perhaps you’re not claiming that I did – however, I have noticed in the past that whenever I bring up the idea of social or epistemological constructivism, you react (if at all) as if this involves a claim that everything “is arbitrary” or “is random”.
    If you looked into Luhmann’s Gesellschaftstruktur und Semantik you would have a better idea of what up. The title itself contains the word Struktur, which rules out randomness. Luhman says explicitly from time to time that his brand of “constructivism” does not posit “arbitrariness”. I myself never thought it did, but apparently – as my own experience has confirmed – there are many people who tend to equate degrees of freedom with degrees of chaos when it comes to reality and knowledge.
    To point out that cakes can be made in different ways with different ingredients is not to claim that they can be made from a random assortment of ingredients.

  20. By the way, I just finished Durkheim’s De la division du travail social (second edition, the first was in 1893) down to the last page. There you find the explicitly formulated elements which Luhmann et al. have elaborated. These ideas have been around for a long time – but I knew nothing about them until about 10 years ago.

  21. I feel very strongly that it is time for a massive round of wordplay now, but I don’t have the time (nor the Latin, neither). Nexus plexus plectrum guitar-string catgut duodenum spectrum (speculate) X-ray prism (prison) heliocentric medieval orbit arbitrary orb-and-sceptre sceptic (septic?) degree of arbitrariness macht degree of freiheit. Noetica, I leave this at your door in a rush basket, or at least in a rush. Also the crumbs of Schrödinger’s gateau.

  22. Thanks, Vasha. I am aware of the two perspectives you mention.
    I suppose it’s possible the story didn’t get a lot of reprintings, and also that I don’t recall enough clues to find it.

  23. just skimmed reading this, interesting http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chakra
    http://www.healthguidance.org/entry/13938/1/The-Solar-Plexus-Chakra.html
    they say it could be compared to the endocrine system in the western medicine, but the lymphatic system seems also like plausible to suggest as for chakras, which is not much studied too, in the mongolian medicine the main things are khii(air/circulation-respiratory), shar(bile, digestive-metabolism),  badgan(lymph, immunology) equivalents, i
    guess, but it’s difficult to read older traditional medicine books, sounds too as if like obsolete

  24. I nowhere suggested that this is what happened. Perhaps you’re not claiming that I did
    No, not at all. Just eliminating the null hypothesis.

  25. megazver says:

    Yes, and I thank you for putting me on to him; he’s a daily joy to read. I don’t know how he finds time to write so much and so well, though!
    Well, he does his ghulams and nookers to take care of things. Not to mention the housekeeper Tatiana, she of scarlet lips.

  26. megazver says:

    *does have

  27. Redder, “by far one of the best”? What can that possibly mean?

  28. Good catch. “One of the best”, OK; “by far the best”, OK; but “by far one of the best” is a pile-up on the phrase highway. There are no fatalities, though, so there’s no need to rescind anybody’s license to murder the language.

  29. I should have said, the representations in Gray & Netter don’t resemble any 17th Century European representations of the sun that I recollect. Sheesh. The chances are indeed great that whoever named it was a) looking at an engraving that may or may not have looked like Netter and b) thinking of representations of the sun that I have never seen. May I go now? Is detention over?

  30. Sorry about that, Dale. I just can’t get it into my head that the words which appear here have been written by people who are probably still alive. In my reading I usually deal with the dead.
    I myself am perfectly indifferent when someone tears into some harmless remark I make here. You won’t catch me getting all hurt and touchy. No, not me. No way. Never. I’m sure somebody can vouch for that. Anybody out there ?

  31. Grumbly is as impervious to criticism as a donkey. Oops, wrong thread.

  32. ØØps: Thanks for corroborating !

  33. 🙂
    I’m not dead yet! I think I’ll go for a little walk!

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