Polydactyly

My morning name a couple of days ago, but it came with a (mental) video that presented itself as offering ground-breaking insights into the structure of language but turned out to be a series of professional-grade photos of the feet (well, the right foot in each case) of former graduate students of mine. Not in any way erotic — I’m not especially given to podophilia — but, once I came to full consciousness and was no longer in the grip of my vivid dream, decidedly creepy.

One of the feet was that of a serious dancer; most were, oh let me say it anyway, pedestrian; but one was a sturdy male foot (belonging to a man I’ll refer to as PD) with extreme polydactyly: two perfect small toes between the big toe and the second toe, and one equally perfect small toe between each of the three remaining pairs. So ten toes in all, making a double-dactylic foot. (Cue: poetic meter.)

Apparently an extremely rare form of polydactyly (whether pedal or manual), not illustrated in anything I could find on the net.

(I don’t recall having seen PD’s feet, but I suspect that his toes are unremarkable)

Polydactyly. From Wikipedia:

Polydactyly or polydactylism (from Greek πολύς (polys), meaning ‘many’, and δάκτυλος (daktylos), meaning ‘finger’), also known as hyperdactyly, is a congenital physical anomaly in humans and animals resulting in supernumerary fingers and/or toes. Polydactyly is the opposite of oligodactyly [or hypodactyly] (fewer fingers or toes).

In humans/animals this condition can present itself on one or both hands. The extra digit is usually a small piece of soft tissue that can be removed. Occasionally it contains bone without joints; rarely it may be a complete functioning digit. The extra digit is most common on the ulnar (little finger) side of the hand, less common on the radial (thumb) side, and very rarely within the middle three digits. These are respectively known as postaxial (little finger), preaxial (thumb), and central (ring, middle, index fingers) polydactyly.

(#1)

The extra digit is most commonly an abnormal fork in an existing digit, or it may rarely originate at the wrist as a normal digit does.

(#2) Manual and pedal polydactyly (New England Journal of Medicine)

The Wikipedia entry provides long lists of real people with polydactyly and of fictional characters with polydactyly (e.g. “The Princess Bride is a comedy adventure book and film in which the vizier Count Tyrone Rugen is known as “the Six-Fingered Man”, having six fingers on his right hand”).

Double Dactyls. The playful poetic form, composed of 8 doubly dactylic lines (each SWW SWW), beginning with a nonsense-word line (for instance, Higgledy piggledy) and a proper name line (for instance, Benjamin Harrison). Full set of constraints in my 5/25/11 posting “Double dactylic sniff”.

(The form is probably better viewed as 4 lines of dactylic tetrameter — a 4-by-4 form — but it’s always set in type as 8 lines.)

Hemingway’s cats. From Wikipedia:

A polydactyl cat is a cat with a congenital physical anomaly called polydactyly (or polydactylism, also known as hyperdactyly), that causes the cat to be born with more than the usual number of toes on one or more of its paws. Cats with this genetically inherited trait are most commonly found along the East Coast of North America (in the United States and Canada) and in South West England and Wales.

True polydactyly is a congenital abnormality, genetically inherited as an autosomal dominant trait of the ZRS cis element of the Pd gene with incomplete penetrance.

Normal cats have a total of 18 toes, with five toes on each fore paw, and four toes on each hind paw; polydactyl cats may have as many as eight digits on their front and/or hind paws.

Although there is some controversy over whether the most common variant of the trait originated as a mutation in New England or was brought there from Britain, there seems to be agreement that it spread widely as a result of cats carried on ships originating in Boston, Massachusetts, and the prevalence of polydactyly among the cat population of various ports correlates with the dates when they first established trade with Boston. Contributing to the spread of polydactyl cats by this means, sailors were long known to value polydactyl cats especially for their extraordinary climbing and hunting abilities as an aid in controlling shipboard rodents. Some sailors thought they bring good luck at sea.

Genetic work studying the DNA basis of the condition however indicates that many different mutations can all lead to polydactyly.

Nobel Prize-winning author Ernest Hemingway was a famous aficionado of polydactyl cats, after being first given a six-toed cat by a ship’s captain. Upon Hemingway’s death in 1961, his former home in Key West, Florida, became a museum and a home for his cats, and it currently houses approximately fifty descendants of his cats (about half of which are polydactyl). Because of his love for these animals, polydactyl cats are sometimes referred to as “Hemingway cats”.

(#3) One of the polydactyl cats at the Ernest Hemingway House in Key West, Florida; this particular cat has 26 toes

The Wikipedia article also covers polydactyly in animals other than humans and cats.

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