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Six body part adjectives

John Murray

With many parts of your body, you can tag a ‘–y’ suffix to the end and make them into an adjective. Often, this is very literal, such as a person with a lot of hairy is ‘hairy’, an intelligent person is ‘brainy’ and somebody with a husky voice might be described as ‘throaty’.

It’s not always that simple though. What if we want to describe somebody with a big nose? We can’t call them ‘nosy’, as that has a completely different meaning.

Here are six adjectives that we all understand, even though we may have to think outside the box a little to connect them with the body part from which they originate:

1. Heady

The head is the first part of the body we recognise as children, and it’s usually seen as the most important. We also call something or someone of foremost importance “the head”, suggesting that we connect it with being at the top.

Furthermore, it can be used to describe food, drink and general experiences, perhaps due to their effect on the head. If a wine, perfume or rollercoaster is described as ‘heady’, it’s exhilarating and makes us enjoy a head rush.

2. Nosy

It’s interesting that we associate the nose with interference. With it being the most prominent part of the face, I suppose it comes from the idea that if somebody was looking over your shoulder, their nose would be the first thing you see.

Of course, the nose is used to breathe and detect scent rather than to display curiosity, but sayings like “poking your nose in” have led to ‘nosiness’ being understood as the act of prying and interfering into the affairs of others.

3. Cheeky

If you had never heard the word ‘cheeky’ before, what would you think it meant? It’s hard to connect any attributes with such a nondescript part of the face.

The cheeks are part of the mouth though, and the mouth is the main part of the body through which we display insolence and disrespect. Being ‘cheeky’, therefore, means showing arrogance and impudence.

Interestingly, the words ‘mouthy’ and ‘lippy’ can have similar meanings, but this is more literally applied to spoken word. In contrast, a written statement or even a facial expression can be ‘cheeky’.

4. Hearty

The heart has connotations of spirit and courage, and the noun itself is often used in a nonliteral sense. If a football team is said to “show plenty of heart”, it doesn’t usually involve any human butchery, although Wimbledon in the 1980s may have been an exception.

A ‘hearty laugh’ is a vigorous and loud one, while ‘hearty food’ might be wholesome and warming. Something ‘hearty’ is thorough and substantial.

5. Handy

Hands are the tools of the body, and are more diverse and sophisticated than anything you’d find in a builder or plumber’s toolbox. After all, a spanner might be able to loosen a rust-encrusted old nut, but can it perform the Ali G finger snap?

Something that’s ‘handy’ is useful, diverse and multifunctional. In German, ‘Handy’ is the word for a mobile phone, showing that flexibility and ergonomics are associated with the hands across languages.

6. Leggy

The obvious conclusion to come to is that something describes as ‘leggy’ would have either long or many legs, like a spider or centipede. The word can have that meaning, but it has another one that has the opposite of what you might expect.

A tired sports team might be described as ‘leggy’, or a marathon runner reaching the end of the course. You might think ‘legless’ would be more appropriate in these instances, but of course that’s a synonym for being very drunk.

Personally, I’d like to introduce the word ‘elbowy’ into the dictionary. It would mean ‘impatient and pushy’, like somebody who would barge their way in front of you to get a better seat on the bus.

What other parts of the body can you connect with types of behaviour? Polite answers only, please!

John is every inch the wordsmith and loves a game of Scrabble above all else. With experience writing for newspapers, John’s time at university was spent studying Creative Writing – something which comes across in his love of the pun.

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