Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Little Islands from the Word Spy

Dear Spies,

This is in answer to a previous question about where the word "insulin"comes from.

You may not know what insulin is - well, it is a very important chemical in your body that helps you use the food you eat to give you energy to do all the things you do each day. If for some reason your body does not make the right amount of insulin, you can get very sick. This is called diabetes. If you have diabetes, you need to take medicine to stay well.

But why is it called insulin? Aha - you see, insulin is made by your body in things called islets of Langerhans, which are a tiny part of your pancreas (an organ in your body close to your stomach.) They were discovered by a German scientist called Paul Langerhans, who lived over 100 years ago. When he saw them, he thought of them as little islands - "islets" (you say it "eye-lets"). Very little islands, actually - usually a person has about a million of them!

Now the word for "island" in Latin is "insula", and because scientific things often have Latin names, "insulin" was the name given to the chemical made by the tiny islands in your pancreas.

Phew! That's a lot on information inside just ONE little word... Next time I might tell you about some other islandy words - like peninsula and insular. But that's enough for now.

yours, with a tired brain,

The Word Spy

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