views updated May 17 2018

tongue / ng/ • n. 1. the fleshy muscular organ in the mouth of a mammal, used for tasting, licking, swallowing, and (in humans) articulating speech. ∎  the equivalent organ in other vertebrates, sometimes used (in snakes) as a scent organ or (in chameleons) for catching food. ∎  an analogous organ in insects, formed from some of the mouthparts and used in feeding. ∎  the tongue of a hoofed mammal, in particular an ox or lamb, as food. ∎  used in reference to a person's style or manner of speaking: he was a redoubtable debater with a caustic tongue. ∎  a particular language: the prioress chatted to the peddler in a strange tongue. ∎  (tongues ) see the gift of tongues below.2. a thing resembling or likened to a tongue, in particular: ∎  a long, low promontory of land. ∎  a strip of leather or fabric under the laces in a shoe, attached only at the front end. ∎  the pin of a buckle. ∎  a projecting strip on a wooden board fitting into a groove on another. ∎  the vibrating reed of a musical instrument or organ pipe. ∎  a jet of flame: a tongue of flame flashes four feet from the gun.• v. (tongues, ton·gued, ton·guing / ˈtənging/ ) [tr.] 1. Mus. sound (a note) distinctly on a wind instrument by interrupting the air flow with the tongue.2. lick or caress with the tongue: the other horse tongued every part of the colt's mane.PHRASES: find (or lose) one's tongue be able (or unable) to express oneself after a shock.get one's tongue around pronounce (words): she found it very difficult to get her tongue around the unfamiliar words.the gift of tongues the power of speaking in unknown languages, regarded as one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2).give tongue (of hounds) bark, esp. on finding a scent. ∎  express one's feelings or opinions freely, sometimes objectionably so.keep a civil tongue in one's head speak politely.speak in tongues speak in an unknown language during religious worship. (with) tongue in cheek without really meaning what one is saying or writing.someone's tongue is hanging out someone is very eager for something: the tabloids have their tongues hanging out for this stuff.DERIVATIVES: tongue·less adj.ORIGIN: Old English tunge, of Germanic origin; related to Dutch tong, German Zunge and Latin lingua.


views updated May 14 2018

tongue The tongue plays an essential part in three main processes: in moving food around in the mouth — towards the teeth for mastication, and towards the throat for swallowing; in the special sense of taste; and in normal speech production. It is covered by a mucous membrane that is continuous with the lining of the rest of the mouth and the throat; this is kept moist by the mucous saliva secreted from small glands in its own surface as well as from the main salivary glands. The characteristic roughness of the healthy tongue is due to four types of papillae that cover the top and sides of the front two-thirds. These are outgrowths of the epithelium — the covering layer — and are of various shapes and sizes. Three types of papillae contain taste buds; the largest but least numerous of the papillae, found towards the back of the tongue, have taste buds arrayed in grooves that surround them.

The bulk of the tongue is made up of a set of muscles attached at one end to hard tissues external to the tongue and inserted at the other end into the fibrous tissue of the tongue itself; these are the extrinsic muscles. There are, in addition, vertical and transverse intrinsic muscle fibres that are attached at both ends to fibrous tissue within the tongue; their prime function is to alter the shape of the tongue. The tongue musculature is largely contained within a fibrous sac, so the whole maintains a constant volume irrespective of its shape.

There are three main paired extrinsic mus-cles on each side; their attachments allow the production of the three main components of tongue movement:

The genioglossus muscles take origin from the middle of the back of the lower jaw and have a fan-like insertion into each side of the midline of the tongue. Their contraction protrudes the tongue.

The hyoglossus muscles take origin from each side of the horseshoe-shaped hyoid bone. (This lies below the tongue and is suspended by a sling of muscles from the jaw and the skull.) They extend forward into the tongue at the sides of the genioglossus muscles. Their contraction shortens the tongue towards its base on the hyoid.

The styloglossus muscles take origin from the styloid process on the base of the skull and pass downwards and forwards into side edges of the tongue. Their contraction elevates the sides of the tongue, forming a gutter in the middle.

During feeding, contraction of the styloglossus muscle of one side causes that side of the tongue to tilt upwards. Consequently, solid food is moved to the opposite side of the mouth, placing it between the occluding surfaces of the teeth for chewing. In contrast, all movements involved in the intra-oral transport of food, and in swallowing, are bilaterally symmetrical, so that the bolus moves in the midline.

During mastication, the mechanosensory function of the tongue is essential for the ability to sort the broken particles of food so that the largest remaining particles are always preferentially selected for placement between the occluding teeth. The mechanosensory receptors in the mucosa have an additional role because the control of tongue posture depends mainly upon information supplied by them. The nerves that carry the information to the brain stem for this and for the sense of taste are the cranial nerves V, VII (taste), and IX (the trigeminal, facial, and glossopharyngeal nerves). The motor nerve from the brain stem to most of the tongue muscles is the hypoglossal (XII).

During speech, movements of the tongue take part, along with those of the jaw, the lips, and the cheeks, in the complex configurations of this part of the ‘vocal tract’ that are necessary for articulation.

Looking at the tongue is a diagnostic tradition. It can become coated, glossy, or smoothed in a variety of systemic illnesses, but most changes are non-specific. Because the tongue is essentially a bag of muscles, a drop in the activity of those muscles makes the bag floppy so that its posture is governed primarily by gravity. Failure to maintain the tongue in a forward position, by maintaining contraction of the genioglossus muscles, may therefore restrict or block the airway, especially if a person is lying on their back. Such a blockage can occur in someone who is unconscious from any cause — from fainting to brain damage. Under normal circumstances the converse also applies: a restriction of airflow causes a reflex increase in genioglossus activity.

Allan Thexton

See alimentary system.See also jaw; mouth; speech; swallowing; taste.


views updated May 11 2018


The tongue is the strongest muscle in the human body for its size. It is used in open-mouthed kissing, in which one person places the tongue in the mouth of another. The level of penetration indicates the level of sexual intensity of the kiss. Tongue kissing is also called deep kissing or French kissing. Some cultures, such as those of the South Pacific, consider kissing in general and deep kissing in particular to be European practices.

When sex researcher Alfred Kinsey (1894–1956) surveyed male sexual behavior in the United States in the 1940s, he noted that French kissing was more common among upper-class men than among men of the lower-classes, and that it was not uncommon for upper-class men to have French-kissed many women but not necessarily have had sex with them; while lower-class men might have had sex with many women but kissed relatively few of them. Kinsey attributed this to a fear of germs and disease among lower-class men. French kissing and the use of the tongue in sexual behavior was more widespread after the sexual revolution of the 1960s, and in the early twenty-first century intimate encounters commonly include French kissing. Prostitutes, however, often refuse to kiss customers during transactional sex, reserving French kissing for the emotional intimacy of other and more genuine relationships.

Other kinds of tongue kissing include French-kissing the ear, and licking and biting the throat and shoulders. If the ear becomes too wet from saliva, people often find the kiss to be annoying rather than erotic, and sometimes refer to it as a wet willy.

People also kiss and lick other parts of the bodies of their sex partners. Kinsey found that it was common for men to kiss and lick female breasts; conversely he found that women seldom kissed or licked male breasts. As with French kissing, he found the highest incidence of tongue contact with breasts to be among men from the upper social, educational, and economic levels of U. S. society. In the early twenty-first century women do not kiss the male breast with anything approaching the frequency of male attention to the female breast and nipple, although this behavior is increasing as more couples explore a wider range of sexual activity.

Gay men lick and suck their partners' nipples with much greater frequency than women do their male partners; lesbians also engage in this practice. Body piercing, especially nipple and genital piercing, visually accentuates these regions and makes them more sensitive to biting, licking, and tugging, and encourages oral activity. Tongue jewelry gives the wearer the ability to massage larger areas of the body, creating a more pleasurable sensation for both men and women during oral sex and promoting more licking and kissing behaviors.

The tongue is vital during oral sex, where people caress and stimulate the genitals of their partners. During fellatio, stimulating the penis by licking the shaft, head, and scrotum is considered as important as sucking or stroking. During cunnilingus, the tongue stimulates the clitoris and labia, and may also penetrate the vagina. The tongue is central to the practice of rimming, in which one person uses the tongue to lick and penetrate the anus of another.

Indeed the tongue is so central to kissing and to all types of sexual behavior that many people consider it to be a symbol of lasciviousness more generally. In Ladies Almanack (1928) by Djuna Barnes, a renowned lesbian named Dame Musset dies and is cremated, but her tongue remains both present and active, signifying that her sexual prowess is immortal. In the 1960s Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones often stuck his tongue out and simulated the rapid movements of cunnilingus during concerts—an act considered shocking at the time. In 1971 the Rolling Stones used the cartoon logo of a pair of lips and protruding tongue on their Sticky Fingers album to suggest the sex part of sex, drugs, and rock and roll, and the tongue image has been associated with the band ever since. Gene Simmons of Kiss—a 1970s rock band—was famous for the bizarre impression he created by sticking his unusually long tongue out of his mouth and waggling it suggestively at audience members while wearing full kabuki-style face makeup. In the early twenty-first century, wagging one's tongue, or sticking it out of the mouth and moving it quickly back and forth, is generally understood to signify cunnilingus, and is therefore considered a lewd and comic gesture.

see also Kiss, Modern; Oral Sex.


Barnes, Djuna. 1992. Ladies Almanack. Normal, IL: Dalkey Archive Press. (Orig. pub. 1928.)

Kinsey, Alfred C. 1948. Sexual Behavior in the Human Male. Philadelphia: W. B. Saunders Company.

                                                  Jaime Hovey


views updated May 21 2018

TONGUE. A flexible mass of tissue attached to the lower back of the mouth of most vertebrate animals; an aid to chewing and swallowing, the organ of taste, and an important component in the articulation of SPEECH. Words for ‘tongue’ in many languages stand for speech itself. English has a number of words and phrases of different origin which do this: language, through French langue, from Latin lingua, tongue; linguistics, directly from Latin; polyglot and isogloss, from the Greek glṓssa, tongue; the phrases mother tongue, foreign tongue, and the Biblical gift of tongues; such idioms as Has the cat got your tongue? (said to someone who will not speak), to bite one's tongue (to remain silent despite provocation), it's on the tip of my tongue (I know it but I can't quite recall it), Hold your tongue (Be quiet).

In terms of anatomy and PHONETICS, the tongue has five parts: the tip (of the tongue), the blade (of the tongue), the front (of the tongue), the back (of the tongue), and the root, which lies not in the mouth but in the pharynx. Sounds made at the tip (the ‘apex’ of the tongue) are apical. The blade is immediately behind the tip, lies opposite the alveolar ridge of the upper mouth when the tongue is in a state of rest, and sounds made with the blade (Latin lamina) are laminal. The area behind the blade is the front, which lies opposite the hard palate when the tongue is in a state of rest, and sounds made with the front are palatal. The back of the tongue lies opposite the soft palate or velum when the tongue is in a state of rest, and sounds made with the back include velar consonants and back vowels.


views updated May 29 2018

tongue the gift of tongues in the Christian Church, the ability to speak in a language unknown to the speaker, or to vocalize freely, usually in the context of religious (especially pentecostal or charismatic) worship, identified as a gift of the Holy Spirit.
the tongue always returns to the sore tooth proverbial saying, late 16th century, meaning that the mind constantly returns to a source of worry.
tongue in cheek without really meaning what one is saying or writing; putting one's tongue in one's cheek is a traditional gesture of sly humour.

See also the Devil makes his Christmas pies of lawyers' tongues and clerks' fingers at devil, the rough side of someone's tongue, a still tongue makes a wise head.


views updated May 09 2018

tongue Muscular organ usually rooted to the floor of the mouth. The tongue contains the taste buds and helps to move food around the mouth for chewing and swallowing; animals also use it for lapping fluids and for grooming. In human beings, the tongue is vital for the production of speech. See also senses


views updated May 14 2018

tongue A muscular organ of vertebrates that in most species is attached to the floor of the mouth. It plays an important role in manipulating food during chewing and swallowing and in terrestrial species it bears numerous taste buds on its upper surface. In some advanced vertebrates the tongue is used in the articulation of sounds, particularly in human speech.


views updated May 23 2018

tongue (tung) n. a muscular organ attached to the floor of the mouth. It is covered by mucous membrane and its surface is raised in minute projections (papillae), which give it a furred appearance. Taste buds are arranged in grooves around the papillae. The tongue helps in manipulating food during mastication and swallowing; it is the main organ of taste; and it plays an important role in the production of articulate speech. Anatomical name: glossa.


views updated Jun 08 2018

tongue. Narrow projection or feather just below the middle of the edge of a timber board: it fits into a groove or slit along the edge of the adjacent board, in floors, etc., hence tongued-and-grooved.

2. Another name for a tenon (See mortice and tenon).


views updated May 14 2018

tongue From various animals, e.g. lamb, ox, sheep. A 150‐g portion is an exceptionally rich source of iron, a rich source of protein, niacin, and vitamin B2; contains about 35 g of fat and supplies 450 kcal (1900 kJ).