IATE Term of the Week: Wisdom Tooth

July 25, 2014 12:58 pm

WisdomtoothWe’ve all heard about it, most of us have also felt the excruciating pain until these little buggers pop out and then it’s time to remove them, given their non-existent usefulness… But where does these molars’ name come from?

The first thing that comes to mind is usually that these teeth owe their name to their late appearance. Thus, since they are the last teeth to grow, at the time, the person is at an age in which people are supposed to be wiser than children. Makes sense, right? On the contrary though, the name of these teeth has a totally different origin, being ‘lost in translation’ from Dutch to English.

In more detail, according to one explanation, the term ‘wisdom tooth’ comes from a mistranslation of the Dutch word for these teeth, ‘verstandskiezen’, literally ‘far-standing-molars’, referring to the fact that all four of them are located at the back of the mouth. In Dutch, such compound words are usually written without the spaces, leaving the first part of the word as ‘verstand’ which can correctly be translated as ‘wisdom’ or ‘understanding’, in English. And there you have it! The verbatim translation of the name resulted in calling these back teeth the ‘wisdom’ ones.

However, as we understand the painful memories that the subject may bring up, here in the TermCoord Unit we decided to play a little game and present to you our personal thoughts on the term of the week via a ‘Crazy Short Shorty’. So, forget about those times when your cheeks were swollen and you were not able to eat or drink anything, and enjoy…


Story of the Week

It all started with a ‘wisdom tooth’ . I didn’t know whether I should visit the dentist or just wait until it actually popped out by itself. *pop* As if it was that easy… At least I had only three of those. Lucky me never developed a forth one. I must be smarter than the rest – at least that’s what my mom said…

to me when I was seven years old. Speaking of which; when I lost my baby teeth, my mom would always keep them in a small jar for me to put away on my bookshelf. I wonder if she will do the same thing with my wisdom teeth, once they are ‘out’, but I’m sure they will look ALOT bigger than those puny baby teeth. My friend pulled hers out once, and those teeth looked like something coming from a shark!

I was always wondering why we need them if they are too big for us and do nothing but disturbing and creating problems in old age. I guess the majority of people would share my opinion. It takes them so much strength to come out and then the only thing we do is going to the dentist to get rid of them. Poor one’s!

But I don’t have to get rid of my wisdom teeth, because for my generation nature had still foreseen a space for them and I feel lucky for this, since I consider them as one of my rare signs of wisdom…

it wasn’t possible for me to reject this sweet taste of melting chocolate. I just wanted to forget about the pain that my wisdom teeth made already the whole week, and eating chocolate could be the only possibility to alleviate the pain.

In addition to that it has the ability to boost endorphin and serotonin levels in brain. However, you’d better bear in mind that you have to be careful if you eat a chocolate chip cookie once your wisdom tooth is removed because it might get stuck in the hole and while trying to get it out, you might cause excruciating pain.

They say that pain leads to wisdom – maybe this is why those teeth are called wisdom teeth. Because they grow so much later than the normal teeth the wisdom teeth very often cause problems to the other teeth or are somehow rudimental, so many people must have them removed not long after they have grown. I guess wisdom comes only if you are able to keep your wisdom teeth for as long as possible which explains also why the really wise are so few…

These days we tend to appreciate measurable knowledge, well-informedness and expertise much more than wisdom, and to admire youth more than mature age. I wonder if we shouldn’t rename our wisdom teeth. Do we really get wiser by the age of 17–25? By the way, what does it mean if I have only two or say none?

You think it’s possible that all these useless teeth just hold my wisdom? Or maybe if I have less than four all this profoundness may be inside my head instead? All these questions in my head without an answer! Why does it always have to come to me right before I visit the dentist? Hmmm…


IATE Wisdom tooth

We invite you to suggest the equivalent terms in the missing EU languages, or alternatives to the existing term in your language if you consider the proposed term inaccurate. Provide your answer with a reliable reference and an accurate definition and/or context if possible.

Click here to contribute to IATE!

A terminologist for the language in question will revise your answer and decide whether to validate them. Given the implications of the process, a delay is to be expected.




By Kerasia Sklavounou
Student of MA Learning & Communication in Multilingual and Multicultural Contexts
University of Luxembourg
Study visitor at TermCoord

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