Lexical Investigations: Appendix

A motley combination of Anglo-Saxon, Latin, and Germanic dialects, the English language (more or less as we know it) coalesced between the 9th and 13th centuries. Since then, it has continued to import and borrow words and expressions from around the world, and the meanings have mutated. (Awesome and awful once meant nearly the same thing.) Some specimens in the English vocabulary have followed unusually circuitous routes to their place in the contemporary lexicon, and this series, Lexical Investigations, unpacks those words hiding in our midst.


How useful is an appendix? That all depends on which meaning of appendix you have in mind. The oldest definition, dating back to the 1540s, is the supplementary material found at the end of a book and comes from the Latin appendere, meaning “to cause to hang from something.” (Interestingly, a necklace pendant has the same word origin.) Over time, appendix was used in other contexts to refer to any part that depends upon a larger body. By 1610, appendix was used in anatomy to refer to outgrowths of internal organs, especially the organ that we know simply as our appendix today. This small organ has no known function in present-day humans, though it may have played a role in aiding our ancestors’ digestion. Now we hardly pay attention to this small, extra pouch attached to our large intestine, unless of course we get a painful case of appendicitis, and it has to be removed. If you lose this useless organ, chances are you would miss it far less than the supplementary material found at the end of certain books on your shelves, should that magically disappear.

Related Quotations:

“Idleness is an appendix to nobility.”

—Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy (1838)

“The modern king has become a vermiform appendix—useless when quiet, when obtrusive in danger of removal.”

—Austin O’Malley (United Irish leader, 1760-1854), Keystones of Thought (published 1914)

“Progress. The process whereby the human race has got rid of whiskers, the vermiform appendix and God.”

—Henry Louis Mencken, A Book of Burlesques (1920)


  1. Brandon -  January 31, 2013 - 11:00 am

    i had appendicites and it sucks

  2. megan -  January 31, 2013 - 7:57 am

    The appendix does play an important ROLE: it helps shelter useful bacteria in the event of a sickness or antibiotics so they can repopulate the intestine later. (Grade 7 science!)

  3. Carole -  January 31, 2013 - 7:22 am

    “A motley combination of Anglo-Saxon, Latin, and Germanic dialects”… What is Anglo-Saxon, if not a Germanic dialect??

  4. Lisa -  January 30, 2013 - 5:41 pm


  5. ... -  January 30, 2013 - 5:08 pm

    Yeah, I just had my appendix removed about a month ago. I had acute appendicitis and for me… it hurt more after the surgery than before. I was in bed or about 2 days after the surgery then I was allowed to go back to school

  6. Sco -  January 30, 2013 - 3:06 pm

    Good to know I wasn’t alone in catching the misspelling (on a dictionary site, no less)

  7. hhh -  January 30, 2013 - 9:58 am


  8. ATimmons -  January 30, 2013 - 8:16 am

    You have misspelled “roll.” You mean “role.” in aiding…

  9. Ravindra U Rao -  January 30, 2013 - 8:00 am

    “The modern king has become a vermiform appendix—useless when quiet, when obtrusive in danger of removal.”

    Shouldn’t it be “….obtrusive when in danger of removal.”?

  10. Spark -  January 30, 2013 - 6:46 am

    Though the function of the appendix (the organ) is not definitively known, researchers believe it can act as a safe house for good bacteria, and can be used to repopulate the gut after certain illnesses. These illnesses (cholera and dysentery) can purge the gut of bacteria needed for digestion. This is when the “back-up” bacteria from the appendix emerge as replacements.

    There are other roles the appendix is believed to play, so the statement that “this small organ has no known function in present-day humans,” is not entirely true.

  11. Lisa -  January 30, 2013 - 5:55 am

    “played a roll”? Really?

  12. Elise Beron -  January 30, 2013 - 5:47 am

    I love this site….read it everyday and I love the secondary parts. Thank you!

  13. Bubba -  January 30, 2013 - 4:27 am

    I was hoping for a third episode of the Kikki and Bouba show. Ho Hum, I’ll have to go back to contemplating my dependably pendulous appendage. -How about a forum on the origins and transmutation of words that have become politically in correct? Is Calling someone a ‘Welsher’ a racial slur? How about Slovenly and Boorish? It’s all Greek to me.
    -Timbuktu used to be a synonym for ‘The ends of the Earth’- Will it’s status change with current World events?

  14. Arlene -  January 29, 2013 - 6:34 pm

    In the discussion of today’s hot word, “appendix,” “it may have played a roll”? A piano roll? Generally we spell this homonym “role.”

  15. Katie C. -  January 29, 2013 - 2:07 pm

    Actually, the vermiform appendix DOES have function. It contains aggregates of lymphatic nodules and therefore would have immune functions. Additionally, endocrine (hormone secreting) cells have been found in the appendixes (appendices, if you prefer) of fetuses. These hormones could be involved in development. Just because we can live happily ever after without a particular organ, doesn’t mean it is unimportant or without function.

  16. APENDIX | BLOGCHI@mayopia.com -  January 29, 2013 - 7:03 am

    [...] “Appendix” — Jimi Hendrix  — Some other footnote none the less — is more for better or worse or just another fix. –  Monty Python in a dress. — Some are simply hanging out while others have a purpose. — Matters not the wanderings — We’re all Bozos in the circus. — So much talent in the squandering — Of footnotes and Organ Grinders — Linking Appendices reminders. –>>L.T.Rhyme This entry was posted in DICTCOMHOTWORD, L.T.Rhyme and tagged LT, LTRhyme, the HOT WORD on January 29, 2013 by LTRhyme. [...]


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