Anatomy word of the month: thymus

June 2, 2014 —

bunchofthyme“Burned as a sacrifice, incense” in Greek.  A lymphoid organ lying directly above the heart, more prominent in the young than adults.  This gland provides the T-lymphocytes so important in the immune process and the primary cell type attacked by the AIDS virus.  So, how did we get here from “incense”?  The thymus had a supposed resemblance to a bunch of thyme, the spice, to imaginative ancient anatomists.  Thyme was burned as incense to the gods of ancient Greece for its fragrant odor.  And, for the discriminating palate, the thymus of the calf when cooked is called “sweetbreads”.  Sautéed or poached on toast, yummy!


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