spleen

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spleen The spleen was linked in past centuries to a variety of emotions, characteristics, or behaviours — usually spitefulness, bad temper, or melancholy, but also sometimes to general liveliness and explosive wit. In the seventeenth century Shakespeare provided many a quote, including the tag ‘spleeny Lutheran’. In the eighteenth century we have Addison's ‘touchy testy pleasant fellow’ with ‘so much Wit and Mirth and Spleen’, whilst less positively a ‘touch of the spleen’ was what we would now call psychosomatic illness. In the late nineteenth century the concept still survived in such whimsies as Gilbert's in Patience: ‘… a sentimental passion of a vegetable fashion must excite your languid spleen’. And ‘venting one's spleen’ has traditionally described a vituperative outburst.

There seems no good reason why the spleen should have deserved these associations — unlike, say, the heart which manifests its link with love by an increase in beating rate with excitement. The spleen is physiologically and anatomically unobtrusive. It is in fact — unusually in the body for an unpaired organ — dispensible. We can live without it because its functions can be taken over elsewhere. It is a small spongy purple mass in a fibrous capsule, tucked under the left side of the diaphragm (smaller than the liver which is tucked under the right side).

The spleen is in a way a poor relation among organs in that it is rarely in the public eye — not even on the butcher's counter. It is not susceptible to dramatic televisual imaging and it does not invite transplantation. It does however sometimes need to be removed: it can suffer hidden injury, for example in crushing or road traffic accidents, when its rupture can cause internal bleeding; other causes for splenectomy include some blood diseases.

Although we can do without it if necessary, the spleen does normally have important functions. In fetal life it is the site of red blood cell formation, until this is taken over by the bone marrow. It contributes to the immune system, forming antibodies and producing and storing masses of lymphocytes. It contains extensive channels and spaces (sinuses) where the blood flows slowly and where senescent red blood cells break down and are removed from the circulation. It therefore becomes enlarged in some infective, parasitic, and blood diseases.

The spleen acts to some extent as a blood reservoir, although this mechanism for increasing circulating blood volume is relatively minor and unimportant in humans compared with some other animals. The smooth muscle in its capsule is activated by the autonomic nervous system in conditions of ‘fight or flight’ or after blood loss, squirting a little extra blood into the circulation — which is perhaps the nearest physiological equivalent to the metaphoric ‘venting’.

Sheila Jennett


See lymphatic system.See also blood; humours; immune system.
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spleen / splēn/ • n. 1. Anat. an abdominal organ involved in the production and removal of blood cells in most vertebrates and forming part of the immune system. 2. bad temper; spite: he could vent his spleen on the institutions that had duped him. DERIVATIVES: spleen·ful / -fəl/ adj. (in sense 2). ORIGIN: Middle English: shortening of Old French esplen, via Latin from Greek splēn.

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spleenAberdeen, Amin, aquamarine, baleen, bean, been, beguine, Benin, between, canteen, careen, Claudine, clean, contravene, convene, cuisine, dean, Dene, e'en, eighteen, fascine, fedayeen, fifteen, figurine, foreseen, fourteen, Francine, gean, gene, glean, gombeen, green, Greene, Halloween, intervene, Janine, Jean, Jeannine, Jolene, Kean, keen, Keene, Ladin, langoustine, latrine, lean, limousine, machine, Maclean, magazine, Malines, margarine, marine, Mascarene, Massine, Maxine, mean, Medellín, mesne, mien, Moline, moreen, mujahedin, Nadine, nankeen, Nazarene, Nene, nineteen, nougatine, obscene, palanquin, peen, poteen, preen, quean, queen, Rabin, Racine, ramin, ravine, routine, Sabine, saltine, sardine, sarin, sateen, scene, screen, seen, serene, seventeen, shagreen, shebeen, sheen, sixteen, spleen, spring-clean, squireen, Steen, submarine, supervene, tambourine, tangerine, teen, terrine, thirteen, transmarine, treen, tureen, Tyrrhene, ultramarine, umpteen, velveteen, wean, ween, Wheen, yean •soybean • buckbean

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spleen Dark-red organ located on the left side of the abdomen, behind and slightly below the stomach. It is important in both the lymphatic and blood systems, helping to process lymphocytes (white blood cells), destroying worn out or damaged erythrocytes (red blood cells) and storing iron. Removal of the spleen (splenectomy) is sometimes necessary following trauma or in the treatment of some blood disorders.

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spleen Gland near the stomach with main function of destroying ‘worn‐out’ red blood cells and recycling the iron. As a food it is called melts; A 150‐g portion of calf spleen is a rich source of iron, vitamins B2, niacin, and C; a good source of vitamin A; contains 6 g of fat; supplies 150 kcal (630 kJ).

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spleen (spleen) n. a large dark-red ovoid organ situated on the left side of the body below and behind the stomach. The spongy interior (pulp) of the spleen consists of lymphoid tissue within a meshwork of reticular fibres. The spleen is a major component of the reticuloendothelial system, producing lymphocytes in the newborn and containing phagocytes, which remove worn-out red blood cells and other foreign bodies from the bloodstream. Anatomical name: lien.
splenic (splen-ik) adj.

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spleen A vertebrate organ, lying behind the stomach, that is basically a collection of lymphoid tissue. Its functions include producing lymphocytes and destroying foreign particles. It acts as a reservoir for erythrocytes and can regulate the number in circulation. It is also the site for the breakdown of worn-out erythrocytes and it stores the iron they contain.

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spleen In vertebrates, an organ posterior to the stomach that produces lymphocytes (see LEUCOCYTE), destroys particles of foreign matter, and acts as a reservoir for red blood cells. It breaks down old red blood cells and stores iron from them.

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spleen gland in the abdomen anciently held to be the seat of (i) melancholy, (ii) mirth XIII; used of various emotions and states of mind XVI. Aphetic — OF. esplen — L. splēn — Gr. splḗn. Comp. spleenwort XVI; after L. splēnium, asplēnon — Gr.
So splenetic XVI. — late L. splēnēticus. splenic XVII. — L.- Gr.

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Spleen. Poem by Verlaine set for v. and pf. by Debussy, 1887–8, as No.6 of Ariettes oubliées and by Fauré, 1889, as No.3 of his Op.51.