From the great Anatomic War

Q: Did they ever have anatomic war?
A: Have you never heard of the great Anatomic War and one of its signal encounters, the 1346 Battle of Extremities, in which the Phalanges, with their long bones, overwhelmed the armored Carpals and Metacarpals?

(#1) Phalanges shooting down the Carpal and Metacarpal forces

Ok, it was all a mishearing, a word-division mishearing. Watching an old episode of the Twilight Zone (S1 E20, “Elegy”), I heard the question above, “Did they ever have anatomic war?” Well, it turns out that the question was actually “Did they ever have an atomic war?” (and the answer was “Yes”). But that led me to anatomy and war, and so, more or less inevitably, to (anatomical) phalanges and (military) phalanxes (and, in the anatomical world, carpals and metacarpals), which I grafted onto the Battle of Crécy (1346) in the Hundred Years War (1337-1453, Plantagenet England against Valois France), with its English longbows on foot arrayed against French armor on horseback, as in #1 above (an illustration accompanying the video of the Battle of Crécy episode of the US tv series You Are There, narrated by Walter Cronkhite; you can watch the episode here).

A bit more on Crécy, from a War in the Middle Ages site, before I move on to phalanxes and phanges:

The Battle of Crécy was a decisive defeat of the French in the Hundred Years War, triggered by King Edward III, King of England, who was claiming the French throne…

King Edward … engaged his 12,000 professional soldiers [with longbows] in a battle with 40,000 French soldiers under the command of Philip VI. King Edward III positioned his troops on a hill where they could fire their arrows easily; they threw an [estimated] 12 arrows per minute, causing massive destruction to the French army.  King Philip largely depended on the knights, who were heavily [armored] with steel breastplates, but their horses remained vulnerable.

Once the English army targeted the horses, the knights would fall and succumb to the marauding English army that bore daggers, knives, bows and arrows … more than 2500 knights were killed while the English suffered just about 1000 casualties. King Philip VI drew back in August 26 1346 while Edward III took over the French port of Calais.

The military phalanx, the digital phalanx. From NOAD2:

noun phalanx: 1 (plural phalanxes) a body of troops or police officers, standing or moving in close formation: six hundred marchers set off, led by a phalanx of police; a group of people or things of a similar type forming a compact body: he headed past the phalanx of waiting reporters to the line of limos; (in ancient Greece) a body of Macedonian infantry with long spears, drawn up in close order with shields overlapping. 2 (plural phalanges) Anatomy a bone of the finger or toe [that is, of a digit]. ORIGIN mid 16th century (denoting a body of Macedonian infantry): via Latin from Greek.

The original, Macedonian, phalanx:

(#2) article on the Macedonian phalanx, drawing by Johnny Shumate

Then via metaphor, from the spears in the military formation to the bones:

(#3) Bones of the hand: the finger bones, the phalanges; the knuckle bones, the metacarpals; and the wrist bones,  the carpals

(adj. and n. carpal < Latin carpus ‘wrist (of a human being)’)

The digits (the manual digits, the fingers, and the pedal digits, the toes) have phalanges, 2 in the thumbs and big toes, 3 in the other digits — proximal (next to the body), intermediate, and distal (away from the body). The hands and feet taken together are referred to as the extremities of the body (tingling and numbness in the extremities), from which term the singular extremity ‘hand or foot’ has been back-formed. The extremities are the distal parts of the limbs ‘hands and feet’, sg. limb ‘hand or foot’.

(Some of this bodypart vocabulary is entirely ordinary language: finger, toe, knuckle, wrist, hand, foot, limb. Some is semi-technical: digit, extremities and extremity as bodypart names. Some are from the technical vocabulary of anatomy: manual, pedal, phalange, carpal, metacarpal, proximal, distal.)

On the adjective anatomic. I misheard an atomic as anatomic — in connected speech they are homophonous — despite the fact that in current English the adjective anatomic is extremely infrequent: anatomic is attested — OED2 has cites from 1712, 1762, 1801, 1858 — but it’s marked as rare there. The adjective derived from the noun anatomy is not anatomic (with suffix –ic), but anatomical (with suffix –ical, a fusion of two adjective-forming suffixes). In contrast, the adjective derived from the noun atom is atomic (with –ic), while atomical (with –ical), though attested, is very rare. In further contrast, the noun cube has two adjectives derived from it: cubic (in –ic) and cubical (in –ical).

There are, in fact, three sets of N > Adj derivations here:

ic only: atom-ic, organ-ic, echo-ic, vitriol-ic, ocean-ic, cosm-ic (base of cosmos), scen-ic

ical only: anatom-ical, chem-ical, farc-ical, lex-ical, cort-ical, ident-ical, surg-ical, evangel-ical, and for many bases of Ns in –ology (cosmolog-ical, psycholog-ical, theolog-ical, terminolog-ical)

both -ic and –icalcom-ic / com-ical (with the base of comedy), angel-ic / angel-ical, diabol-ic / diabol-ical, cub-ic / cub-ical, trag-ic / trag-ical (with the base of trag-edy), cycl-ic / cycl-ical, myth-ic / myth-ical, sto-ic / sto-ical, and for a great many bases of Ns in -y (histor-ic / histor-ical, metonym-ic / metonym-ical, hierarch-ic / hierarch-ical, symmetr-ic / symmetr-ical, geograph-ic / geograph-ical, econom-ic / econom-ical, rhapsod-ic / rhapsod-ical, geolog-ic / geolog-ical)

On this last set, from Michael Quinion’s affixes site:

In many cases both forms exist (classic and classicalhistoric and historical); sometimes these have slightly different senses, but often they are interchangeable (comic or comicalgeographic or geographicalsymmetric or symmetrical) and the choice is often personal, or set by a house style, or to suit the rhythm of the sentence.

(There are, of course, other N > Adj suffixes: –al in larval etc., -ous in ominous etc.)

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