On the Preponderance of Breast-Like Referents in Bioscience, or, BOOBIES EVERYWHERE!

I suppose this post doesn’t have the least sensationalist title, but – honestly – it’s accurate. Do I know that they’re actually called breasts? Yes. One of my academic homes in sex research. But ‘boobies’ is way funnier than breasts, as every human person knows. And also more appropriate terminology for this post as you’ll see if you stay with me.

So, first: remember that movie by that guy? M. Night Shyamalan? Where that kid with three names was like “I see dead people”? Well, this is like that. Except not about dead people, and I don’t have three names, and I’m also not M. Night (surprise!) (that is my twist ending, obviously). Instead, this is like “I see boobies.” If you also added “Everywhere.” And then maybe threw in “Because I’m a bioscientist” for good measure. Uh – what? Boobies? plus Everywhere? plus Bioscience? Yes.

For example. I was in my local Natural History Museum and believe me: yes this is already another digression and yes there will be a post about feminism and natural history museums in the near-future because: obviously. But really, I wanted to open with the Natural History Museum because they have awesome ancient elephant things. I realize that my calling them that probably made someone’s head explode. I’m sorry about that. But, let’s be honest: there are awesome ancient elephant things (you can tell I’m a scientist by my precision). At my Natural History Museum (the one I go to, at least because so far as I know I don’t own it) there is a huge mastodon, which is really awesome.

The End.

Just kidding! If you know your Greek (or Latin WHO KNOWS THE DIFFERENCE?!), or you’ve had issues with lactation (that’s one thing that boobies can do, as you well may know), then you probably already know what I’m talking about. I will walk the rest of us mastodon novices through this. What does a mastodon refer to? That’s pretty easy, right? Some type of mammalian animal that is somehow related to modern elephants, but went extinct maybe 10k years ago (I’ve always wanted to use money units for time AND NOW IS MY CHANCE). You may think that mastodons and woolly mammoths are somewhat similar but that’s a rookie mistake, and everyone (including me now that I checked Wikipedia) knows that woolly mammoths went extinct about 250k years ago.

So now you know. In case you aren't sure, the really woolly one is apparently the woolly mammoth (I had to check, myself). I have to admit that the mastodon looks a bit like an anteater which is, for some reason, wholly disappointing.

So now you know. In case you aren’t sure, the woolly mammoth is apparently the really woolly one (I had to check, myself). I have to admit that the mastodon looks a bit like an anteater which is, for some reason, wholly disappointing.

Anyway, so that’s what a mastodon refers to. But what does ‘mastodon’ mean, literally? Breast teeth. Obviously. What were you thinking it might mean? Something elephanty? R U crazy?? ‘Mastodons’  are so-named because their teeth are breast-shaped. Because obviously the teeth of the mastodon are its most prominent feature, unlike its elephanty-ness.  Look at the above picture: what jumps out at you? Breast teeth. And, obviously the teeth are extremely boobie-ish. Now look below, at the picture of boobies I mean mastodon teeth.

How can any person with eyes not see boobies here?

How can any person with eyes not see boobies here?

Can you even see for boobies??? If you ask me, that middle set of teeth kind of looks like an open mouth with a weird nose above it IF I TRY REAL HARD but actually my brain is boring because they just really really look like teeth. Maybe mountains? These are like Rorschach teeth and I failed. Anyway, I do want to acknowledge that they probably unearthed a tooth before they dug out the Natural History Museum-ready fabricated plastic whole model of a mastodon, so that might be partly why the teeth feature so prominently in the name. Anyway, blah blah blah long story short science discovery etc., that Cuvier guy named mastodons ‘mastodons’ because of how breasty their teeth looked. Or nipple-y. Either way: CUVIER SAW BOOBIES. So, here I am, in the Natural History Museum, minding my own business, looking at mastodons and realizing that I’m looking at breast-teeth-ers. Awesome! I mean, nothing wrong with boobies, eh?

2. (because this is now a list.) Have you ever heard of mammillary bodies? You probably are like: um, yes? Breasts? No? And I’m like: this is trickier than that. The neuroscientists among you are like: Oh ho! We know what she’s talking about! Yes. The mammillary bodies. I probably don’t have to tell you that ‘mammilla’ means ‘booby’ in Latin (okay: of or relating to breasts, according to the internets). Mammillary bodies are a part of the brain. Right in the middle there – don’t look at the labels and cheat; see if you can spot them!

That is some impressive cleavage.

No matter how funny they are, the mammillary bodies will never be as funny as the medulla oblongata, and that is a fact.

Ok. So these are more boobular than the mastodon teeth, eh? I agree. They’re not exactly un-breasty… You put a bikini on those and – wow!  So, here I am, in an undergraduate neuroscience class, minding my own business and studying the brain and then zippo-presto (is that a thing?): I’m looking at boobies. Boobies everywhere! Right!? But nothing wrong with boobies – they do important things. Like: what kind of bee makes milk? Boo-bees! That’s a very scientific joke, right there.

3. Remember Dolly? The cloned sheep?

Hi! I'm Dolly the Sheep. Or, semi-disturbingly, her taxidermied remains.

Hi! I’m Dolly the Sheep.
Or, semi-disturbingly, her taxidermied remains.

So, Dolly, eh?! That was pretty amazing science back in the day! Though I’m still waiting on a clone of my favorite pillow because no other pillow can get it right and COME ON GENETICS. Anyway, I remember Dolly. And one day, I thought to myself: I wonder why that sheep is called Dolly. Have you ever wondered? Well, I looked it up. And not even just in my gut. Because my gut would not have really believed it but you obviously have long guessed it by now and my career as a mystery plot writer is over because everyone will obviously already guess who did it with what weapon in which room by the time it’s page 2. Dolly. Long story short: you’ve heard of Dolly Parton, perhaps? She is known for her singing, for being a cultural icon, for receiving many awards, and – yes – for the size of her breasts.

This is Dolly Parton, being honored with the U.S. National Medal of Arts, along with some other who-knows-who-thes-people-are people.

This is Dolly Parton (in white), being honored with the U.S. National Medal of Arts, along with some other who-knows-who-these-people-are people.

Ok, there’s the story: Dolly the sheep is named after Dolly Parton. Got it. But it doesn’t quite make sense yet, right? Because what do SHEEP have to do with BREASTS? I mean, yeah, they’re mammals but it’s not like sheep are known for some especially breasty nature, right? Well, apparently, the scientists named Dolly the sheep “Dolly” because

Dolly is derived from a mammary gland cell and we couldn’t think of a more impressive pair of glands than Dolly Parton’s.

I’ve looked this up many times and this is cited as a quote on Wikipedia and in many renowned news sources (BBC, CBC, anything-BC). Wouldn’t you think it was made-up? It sounds apocryphal, right? Or, at least, it would, if you didn’t already know that, for (some) scientists, it’s (all together now) BOOBIES EVERYWHERE! So, there I am, minding my own business but also I guess not because I was looking it up because I had a gut-booby hunch and it’s all: boobies! even in cloned sheep! everywhere!

4. Mammals. That’s all I need to say.

When has one word EVER been all I needed to say? One word: never.

I thought I’d list mammals too because a whole type of animal got named for having boobies. Like, rock on, boobies! You got a whole TYPE of LIFE named after you! Boobies (or mammillary tissue, but why be so scientific about it? Plus I know boobies are a social construction and that’s kind of my point) are basically the only thing these various types of animals have in common. It’s absolutely natural and necessary that they be named for boobies because that is the only one thing ever in the universe they have in common. Except, oh yeah, hair. Right? I mean all the mammals have hair, but only the females can lactate, so it makes perfect sense to call them something boobular rather than hairicular. Apparently (I read Wikipedia pretty hard for this today’s post, eh?!), they also all have three middle ear bones and a neocortex in common, BUT WHO’S COUNTING!? Not me. They’re almost all viviparous too (I knew that word and didn’t even have to look it up because I AM FANCY LIKE THAT), except for those tricky oviparous monotremes like that platypus jerk who ruins the party (but is pretty cute, I’ll admit. IT HAS A BILL. KIND OF.). Anyway, obviously the only choice to group all these animals is booby-sharing. So here I am, minding my own business and being a mammal and then I realize I’m a classified-by-boobies thing, and that I’m surrounded by other classified-by-boobies things because: (sing it slowly, kind of understated, maybe with a twang): boobies everywhere.

This is a totally unnecessary and completely gratuitous image of a platypus but instead of going predictably cutesy and showing a live one with a bill (that would probably make more sense) I went all Natural History Museum to fit with this post's sensibilities and not hurt its feelings.

This is a totally unnecessary and completely gratuitous image of a platypus but instead of going predictably cutesy and showing a live one with a bill, I went all Natural History Museum to fit with this post’s sensibilities but I’m kind of regretting that decision now but inserting images is a lot of work and I have to go drink milkshakes.

CONCLUSION: I should have gone with the cutesy live platypus picture OBVIOUSLY. And, this is a long post! And also: I’m realizing that this post is not so much like M. Night Shyamalan’s “I See Dead People” movie; it’s more like that Leslie Nielsen trilogy:

Remember how funny this was when you were 10 years old?

Remember how funny this was when you were 10 years old? I DO. (sort of.)

I don’t remember which one, but I’m talking about the one where Leslie Nielsen was lamenting how much he missed his girlfriend and how everything he saw reminded him of her. Remember that? The visual gag was that the things he was seeing that reminded him of her were things that looked like (don’t read ahead because you’ll never guess in one million eighthundred thousand k years!) (did you guess? DON’T! You’ll ruin it! You’ll never be able to figure it out because this is so unexpected…) boobies! That’s right. I surprised you For Realz! Everything Leslie Nielsen’s character saw looked just like boobies and it was a gag because obviously things that looked like boobies would remind him of her because boobies = women (or at least hot movie women girlfriends). I remember that one of the visual gags he saw was those things that I don’t know what they’re called so I can’t even look them up to get a picture to post here for you because YOU look up “very big things that look like breasts but aren’t and maybe architecture? what’s in them anyway I HAVE NO IDEA but I don’t think it’s food-related items” and see what you get because I’ve learned my lesson through googling sex-related terms for images I could show when I teach sexuality courses and my eyes just recovered yesterday.

So, anyway: Leslie Nielsen = all bioscientists throughout time?  One one hand: Leslie Neilsen. On the other: Famous Anatomists Who Named Things. What’s the dif? THEY ALL HAVE WHITE HAIR. But, really, what they have in common is that they all see Boobies. Everywhere.

Tell me I’m just seeing people-who-see-boobies-everywhere everywhere. Tell me it’s not that these scientists were seeing boobies, it’s that the things they saw just were so booby-like they couldn’t help but name them after boobies. If that is the case, I give you my closing argument:

Guess what the pituitary gland ISN'T called.

Guess what the pituitary gland isn’t called. And I don’t mean boobies.


You may also like...

6 Responses

  1. losangeles71 says:

    What has always bugged me the most is mammatus *clouds*!! CLOUDS have to be named after breasts?! Are namers of these things third-graders?!?

  2. crustaceangirl says:

    And in the plant world: Mammillaria cacti.

  3. Lisa Dawn Hamilton says:

    In my graduate school neuroanatomy class, the instructor, a renowned neuroscientist, told us that when the original anatomists looked at the brain, they saw a sexy woman and that is what they were thinking of when they named certain parts. The mammillary bodies were the breasts (and every time he said ‘mammillary bodies’ throughout the entire semester he would mime that he was grabbing some very large breasts) and the colliculi were named after the ass (we could remember this because ‘culo’ means ‘ass’ in Spanish). Slightly off topic, but he also mocked people in his undergraduate classes who had commented on course reviews that he was sexist. He thought this was quite funny and shared it with us, the graduate students, because we would somehow see how silly the undergrads were being, I guess?

  4. Sari van Anders says:


  5. Sari van Anders says:


  6. Sari van Anders says:

    Lisa Dawn, I’m so glad he mimed grabbing very large breasts for you to helpfully underscore how you should judge him. And, please tell me he used the word ‘ass’ in class not gratuitously but to refer to donkeys. It was about donkeys, right? Culo means donkey??? Finally, those undergrads! Always misguidedly liking feminism and social justice! Cue laugh track.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *