Saturday, November 28, 2015


The little thing that hangs down in the back of your throat, just so we're clear here.

Drawing by Gray's Anatomy by way of wikimedia. Annotated by Phil Plait

Back in the olden days, when the Sun was slightly cooler and the Universe a fraction smaller, I lived in Virginia. At the time (and apparently still today), for a little extra money you could purchase a “vanity” car license plate, with up to seven letters on it. I like this idea, and it’s sometimes fun to try to figure out what other people’s plates mean.

As a bit of silliness, I decided to get UVULA, because why not? I happen to have one, and you probably do too, and I used to (and apparently still today) like to do things just because they’re off-kilter and weird.

So I filled out the form at the DMV, submitted it, and waited. After a few days I got a letter in the mail telling me my request was denied. No reason was given. Now, I happen to know that if the plate you wanted was already taken, they’d tell you (that happened to me once). So why did they refuse me?

To this day, I don’t know. But I have my suspicions. Despite its latitude, Virginia still thinks of itself as a southern state, and a genteel one. I strongly suspect someone at the DMV was confusing a uvula with a vulva, and denied me on the grounds of their own mistaken prurient metathesis.

Ah well. I went with another plate idea, and never looked back.

I’m reminded of all this because my friend, Hank Green — who himself, I presume, has a uvula — just made a SciShow episode about the dangly little throat projection. I have to admit I was never an expert on such things, but I was still surprised at the versatile little appendage and the multiple roles it plays in the back of the mouth.

So there you go. I suppose it’s easy to belittle the uvula, but you do so at your own risk. I’ll personally never downplay it again.

Oh — as for my license plate dilemma, I finally settled on one that befit my greenish streamlined Datsun B210: KLINGON. You can make fun of me if you want, but it was the envy of the Old Dominion. I stopped at a red light once, and a guy pulled up next to me. He caught my eye and said, “I wanted KLINGON but they told me it was taken!”

I laughed, yelled “Q’Plah!”, and drove away. In my rear view window I could see his mouth hanging open, but sadly I couldn’t see his uvula myself.