What is an Adam's Apple?

Adam's apple photo via Shutterstock

Touch your fingers to the front of your throat and start humming. Feel around until you can feel vibration directly under your fingers. That’s your larynx, or voice box. It houses your vocal cords and is involved in breathing and vocalization.

Surrounding the larynx is the laryngeal prominence, better known as the Adam’s apple. The “apple” is simply protective cartilage. As your voice changes and your larynx grows during puberty, the cartilage enlarges and moves with it. Depending on the size of your larynx, the apple can seem barely there, or be very prominent.

Despite common misconception, women do have Adam’s apples, and both boys and girls have similarly sized apples when they’re young. Come puberty, though, boys’ vocal cords tend to become longer and thicker, and the larynx and laryngeal prominence both need to grow differently to accommodate them, so males’ apples will generally be more noticeable.

Adam Who?

There are two popular explanations for the laryngeal prominence’s nickname. The first is that it refers to the Biblical Adam. According to the book of Genesis, the first man ate the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, which is popularly interpreted as an apple, and the laryngeal prominence got its name because it looks like a piece of fruit stuck in one’s throat.

The alternate explanation is that it’s a mistranslation of the Hebrew tappuah ha’adam. In modern and Biblical Hebrew, tappuah has had a few meanings, including “apple,” “citron,” “swelling” and several place and personal names. Ha’adam, which can mean “mankind” or refers to unidentified men, may have been misinterpreted as the name Adam to get “Adam’s apple” instead of “man’s apple” or “man’s swelling.”

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April 23, 2012 - 11:02am
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