Where Words Take Us – Throat

Plastic lung model showing trachea and bronchi
Lung Model
Image by: Robina Weermeijer

Throat was probably the most random word that could cross my path this week, and once it stood in front of me, and I started thinking what on earth I could say about it, I remembered the fierce threat carried in the throaty expressions of the English language. It dawned on me what a marvel the throat actually is, controlling the rhythmic roll of life up and down its narrow passage – which is so much more than the dictionary definition in the Lexico

The throat is the vital canal through which we breathe, but breathing just happens. We never pay any attention to it, and I can’t think of any time that I’ve seriously considered the functioning of my respiratory system other than the days of the red balloon lungs in my favourite science teacher’s classroom. And yet, breathing is such an intricate process and without it, there is no life.   

Male Singer with Guitar - Photo has brownish hue.
Singer with Guitar
Image by: Txus Garcia

It is the vital canal through which we speak and sing. A strong stream of air rushing over the vocal cords gives us the voice to express ourselves. We take it for granted but think of this: the sound produced by the vocal cords means nothing. It is just when we shape it into words that it makes sense. And the articulators in your mouth are such strange structures. Who would have ever thought they could make the world speak in different tongues?

Dinner Party with Long Table
Dinner Party
Image by: Mona Masoumi

It is also the vital canal for food to nourish our bodies and minds. The perfect, rhythmic coordination of this process has to leave you in wonder. In this video, you can see how the tongue propels the food to the back of the mouth where the swallowing starts as a reflex, and for that split second, all breathing and speaking stops. The mouth and nose are closed off to prevent food from regurgitating, and the epiglottis closes over the larynx to prevent food from going into the airways. 

Imagine the pandemic as something of the past, and we can have a fun evening out with friends again, go to a sporting event or rock concert, or go to gran for lunch on Sunday. While we’re eating and drinking and chatting and singing, and we can hear the voices of the kids, playing outside, spare a thought for the silent air-traffic controller called the throat, regulating three different processes in sync, because if anything goes wrong, we may simply stop breathing.

With thanks to my editor, Lynne Smit

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6 Responses

  1. Long live the throat! Throat was one of the few words I remembered from my Zulu language course some years ago. “Umpimbo” – now I know why it has such significance.

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