My legs are bagged. Bagged like groceries. They’re wrecked like the Edmund Fitzgerald. They’re so sore I need to help myself with my arms when sitting down and getting up, and I grunt when doing either.

Don’t worry. It’s not permanent. It’s just the effects of exercise. I dealt the first blow to them at my niece’s wedding reception, dancing Russian-style to “Rasputin.” Then today I went skiing, and of course along with everything else I had to ski the high steep mogul runs: Memorial Bowl. The Lone Pine. Because bragging rights. And after that, my leg muscles were in pain.

Well, not all of my leg muscles. Mainly my quads. You know, quadriceps. Musculus quadriceps femoris. The muscle on the top of your upper leg, the big flat muscle that other people sit on if you let them.

Actually, the quadriceps isn’t one muscle. It’s four. Hence the name: quadriceps, Latin for ‘four-head’. The full name means it’s the four-headed muscle of the femur. And by four-headed, they mean there are actually four muscles. The one on the top is the rectus femoris; the other three beneath it are the vastus lateralis, vastus medialis, and vastus intermedius.

Tell you what, if you’re not entirely sure where your quads are, or what they might be feeling like for me right now, do this: plant your feet about a half a metre in front of a wall, and – without a chair – assume a sitting position against the wall, using just the force of your legs to hold your back against it, with your knee and hip joints at or near 90-degree angles. Hold that position for a while. When your legs start to shake, keep holding it. Eventually – within a minute or three, probably – you will have to stop. Congratulations: you are now feeling your quadriceps. Both of them. Or all eight of them.

So that’s why it’s called quadriceps rather than quadricep? Nope. Quadriceps is not a plural form, actually. In the Latin it modifies a singular noun, musculus. In Latin the plural would be quadricipites, but in English we just use quadriceps for one or more than one – although, as with biceps, people sometimes backform an s-less singular.

So we get the short form, quads, which has strong tastes of squad and squat (and squatting uses the quads!). And we have the fuller word, quadriceps, which will quite reasonably remind you of biceps, and which counterbalances the thick and broad quad with the sharp snipping ceps, joined by a ri bridge. The added length also changes the visual balance: from the rotational quasi-symmetry of quads to a mirror-style quasi-symmetry with quadriceps. Both of them have the little snake of an s on the end.

But snakes bite. Quads don’t bite, not exactly. They burn. But not spontaneously. Just as a bit of quad-pro-quo.

I wonder if having the right person sitting on them would help.

2 responses to “quadriceps

  1. As I tweeted a while back, Bryan Garner shocked me by endorsing the singular “bicep” in his Modern American Usage. I suppose it’s inevitable, but thanks for mentioning the alternative (and it Latin heritage).

  2. Nicely done. Of course the quads have to be balanced by opposing muscle groups, just as in critical thinking ideas need to be balanced by alternate viewpoints. May I suggest concatenation. The delightful sound, when spoken, seems quite different from the meaning. High dudgeon, an under-used expression,, seems a kinder way to say “hissy fit”.
    Regards, Alan

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