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Body parts, body positions

Today we give a little attention to body positions.*

A Facebook friend inquired yesterday about the distinction between prone and supine. I explained that prone means lying face down—like the young people in the recent fad of “planking”**—and supine means lying on one’s back.

The distinction has blurred some. The New Oxford American Dictionary offers a weasely entry on prone: “lying flat, esp. face downward.” In the metaphoric sense, prone means to have a predisposition or to be liable to something. If one is prostrate—and please observe the second r—one is lying flat, face down, at full length, in submission or adoration.

Supine has variants. In the Trendelenburg position, one lies supine with the feet higher than the head. The reverse Trendelenburg is, as you have already guessed, the opposite. Supine also provides a metaphoric sense of behaving passively out of indolence or moral weakness.

Similarly blurred is the word akimbo, which describes a posture with hands on hips and the elbows extended. The phrase legs akimbo crops up, which I would have thought ill-advised for anyone not a yogi, but the NOAD tells me that with other limbs—and I presume they mean legs—akimbo means “flung out widely or haphazardly.”

If all the limbs are extended, one is spread-eagled.

In kneeling, one distributed the weight on one’s knees and feet. In church, the faux-kneeling crouch, with the behind on the edge of the chair or pew, is neither reverent nor aesthetically gratifying. Better just to sit.

In genuflection, one bends one knee to the ground, rising as gracefully as one can manage.

In the crab position, familiar from gymnastics and breakdancing, the torso is supinated (from supine, back parallel to the ground), the knees bent, the arms extended straight, and the weight borne on the hands and feet.

In bowing, one inclines the upper body, bending at the waist. In the more courtly bow and scrape, one bows deeply with the right leg drawn back, the left hand pressed across the abdomen and the right hand at one’s side. This is the male form of the curtsey, in a girl or woman one bends the knees outward, inclining forward slightly and sweeping one foot behind.


*Sorry to disappoint, but no sex positions or bondage positions will be described here. You can find the Kama Sutra and Krafft-Ebing elsewhere on the Net.

**I suppose they can’t stuff themselves into telephone booths, since cellphones have done away with telephone booths, but couldn’t they swallow live goldfish or something else traditional?



Posted by John McIntyre at 1:30 PM | | Comments (20)


Don't forget "pronate" and "supinate", which refer to turning one's hand to be prone (palm down) or supine, or to rotate the foot inward (knock-kneed) or outward (bow-legged).

And the there's recumbent. My Contracts professor told us on the first day of class that we should stand when presenting a case in class because, as he put it, "I know of no court in the land that allows itself to be adressed while one remains in the recumbent position."

I had to write it phonetically and look it up later, but we all got the point right away. The strict dictionary sense may suggest one needs to be prone or supine, but in this professor's broader meaning it meant a position of relative rest. That was a year-long class and we each stood every single time we presented a case.

I had my annual mammogram last week. The attendant told me to face the machine, turn my torso, lift one arm, hold on here, pull my hair out of the way, lean forward, but extend butt out, take a deep breath and HOLD IT! I wish there were a word for that pose.


First off, I hope your most recent mammogram worked out well, w/ nary a sign of any abnormalities.

Now as to that proscribed mammogram examination 'pose' you described, I think the word you may be searching for is just plain "awkward".

I would imagine that the extension, or pushing out of the butt would naturally push the breasts slightly more forward, thus positioning them in the optimal lateral viewing, or X-ray 'attitude'.

(Hmm....... now there's a thought. Breasts w/ an attitude. HA!)

Even more 'awkward', for us guys over 50, is our annual (or even semi-annual) digital prostate exam. One is neither prostrate, prone, or supine for this indelicate, yet very important procedure.

Rather, the doctor's instructions are usually to lower your tidy-whities to your knees, or ankles, face the examination table, lean forward bracing yourself w/ straight arms, then finally spread your legs akimbo. The fickle-finger-of-fate then performs its magic. HA!

(Why am I thinking of comic sitcom character George Costanza when I'm describing all this? Guess it's just a scenario ripe for sicko "Seinfeld" humor. HA!)

Like the diagnostic import of annual mammograms for women, as you likely know, the digital prostate probe along w/ periodic PSA blood tests are the two most widely used medical procedures to detect any signs of prostate cancer.

However, most recently, medical researchers are finding that the PSA method may not be that reliable as a barometer of possible cancerous growth. Apparently hundreds of prostate needle biopsies have turned up negative for cancer cells, even though PSA numbers were elevated in these particular patients.

Dahlink, at present I'm totally recumbent, and quite relaxed in my cool swivel chair, but shortly I'll be off to my local gym to assume sundry, and varied bodily positions. Use your imagination.

Alas, none would be found described in the pages of either the ancient Kama Sutra, or Krafft-Ebbings provocative tomes. It's just not THAT kind of gym. HA!


Hey, you two, get an examining room.

Prof. McI.,

I cannot stop laughing (HA! HA! HA!) at your last post...... worthy of Patricia the Terse in its sheer pithiness, and suggestive irony.

You sir are a most clever and most dry witted one, but I'm sure you already knew that.

"Get an examining room", indeed. HA!

Why do you think I'm going straight away to the gym........ for my health?

Dahlink just got me so all hot-and-bothered w/ her rather descriptive, and detailed mammogram procedure, that a workout at the gym seemed to be the best distraction I could come up with, short of ________. (Fill in the blank.)

Extended buttocks, bared breasts, and such............ the polymorphous perverse mind just boggles.

I may have recently signed on with Medicare, but I'm hardly ready to be put on life-supports......... as yet.

John, thanks for your 'probing' humor. (I'm still chuckling. Seriously.)

You'd make a superb supine comedian. (As opposed to standup.)


One of my favorites is "widdershins" - moving in a counter-clockwise way - a form of locomotion practiced in certain shamanic rites,according to some anthropologists.

Lord Peter Wimsy, in "The Nine Tailors," remembers that it's bad luck to go around a church "widdershins." To err is human, to forgive is supine? Patricia the SUggestively Ironic.

Patricia the Suggestively Ironic,

Hmm..... I guess that Lord Wimsy warning wouldn't apply to Turkish Sufi whirling dervishes?

I believe "widdershins" might apply to these flowing-robe-clad twirling marvels of the Muslim world, spinning continuously as they do for hours-on-end in, I believe, a counterclockwise direction. Shades of shamanistic ecstatic states I would argue, all inspired by the great ancient mystic poet, Rumi.

Hmm.........I wonder if dervishes in Australia would whirl in a clockwise (anti-widdershins) direction, keeping in mind that sink, or toilet water in the Southern Hemisphere drains in the opposite direction to similar water above the equator.

OK, I'm being silly here, Your Royal Pithiness.

Ta! Ta!


Look, as John Cowan would testify, it is Lord Peter Wimsey with an E, and on second reference it is Lord Peter, not Lord Wimsey.

Now - off you go! That's it! Widdershins!

It's been years since I practised or even fiddled with it, but heraldry contains an entire catalog of terms for every position imaginable (mostly for describing animals).
Those lions on the shield of Richard the Lionheart, for instance, are emblazoned as passant - one foot up and looking forward. If they were looking a the viewer they would be passant guardant. Blazonry is a bit like computer code, every word and it's position relative to other words means something.
Sadly, as useful and specific as the terms are they're not used outside heraldry circles and thus not terribly useful in most normal situations. Get some heralds together, however, and you can have a lively Simon Says-type of game.

April K--thanks to your comment, the next time I go for a mammogram I'll just pretend I'm engaged in heraldry. Or maybe playing a solitary version of Twister ...

Alex--"oh, behave!" as someone we know might say.

Mr. McIntyre,
Were you intending to reference Mr. Krafft-Ebing? I believe he comes with a singular "b".

It's a fair cop.

1000 culpae. It was plus tard, else I would not have misspelled His Lordship's surname.

One forgives.

Toodle pip!

One of Canadian comedian Rick Moranis' most memorable sketch bits from many of his personal gems on the long-running comedic mock-news show, Second City Television (SCTV), that aired from the late '70s to the mid-'80s, was his hilarious send up of the most relaxed, mellowest crooner of the Golden Era of TV, mister suave himself, Perry Como.

Moranis wore the signature Como floppy cardigan sweater as he lay prostrate (well, actually fully stretched out on his left side) on stage, cordless 'mic' in hand, crooning in an almost somnambulistic, slow drone, the normally uptempo late '70s disco hit, "I Love the Night Life" (or Disco 'Round). Moranis, as Como, was hardly boogying on the dance floor, or the stage for that matter-----the quintessential picture of the ultimate totally relaxed performer. Some might argue, almost como-tose performer. (Groan).

As most SCTV faithful will recall, Moranis most memorable running character on the very popular sketch comedy show was Bob McKenzie, half of the dimwitted sibling duo of Bob & Doug, Doug being played by what would pan out as Bob's perfect comedic foil, Dave Thomas.

These two likable backwoods, beer-guzzling, toqued doofuses brought out almost every clichéd, alleged Canadian character/ cultural idiosyncrasy into their act, and set back our national image around the globe by several decades. Well not really, eh?

These two clueless 'hosers' were an hilarious comic team who actually gained considerable spinoff visibility and fame w/ comedy albums, a feature film (Strange Brew), commercials, TV and film cameos, and their ultimate sign of achievement, a 2009 animated cartoon series, "Bob & Doug". Actor Dave Coulier of "Full House" sitcom fame voiced Bob (the Rick Moranis live-action character), while Dave Thomas reprised his Doug voice part in the cartoon version. But I digress.

I'm 'prone' to going off on tangents, particularly in a recumbent position, so I'll stand, amble along, and bid you all adieu.

Ta! Ta!


P.S.: ----Blogger April K has piqued my interest in the whole heraldry thing. I seem to recall my clan McCrae, (or MaCrae) official crest is a disembodied crooked arm grasping a sword within a graphic flattened circular buckled belt, w/ the accompanying motto, "Fortitude".

Makes sense, considering the clan's ancient history as the "Coat o' Mail" (or official security force) of the McKenzies at Eilean Donan castle up in the West Highlands of Scotland. Today this fully restored fortress is the official home of Clan MaCrae.

Hmm..........somehow I just can't picture Bob and Doug, the McKenzie Brothers, hanging out at Eilean Donan, even though it was a McKenzie castle/ fortress for several hundreds of years.

Maybe doing the Spey Valley whiskey distillery trail tour would be more up to their speed, although beer appears to be their libation of choice............ preferably a Canuck brew.

As a child growing up in upstate New York, I learned the accepted speech patterns of the area. As an adult living in South Carolina, I have learned certain other speech patterns.

Thus, at about 10:15 this morning, I walked into a Dunkin' Donuts with nearly-empty shelves and uttered the phrase "Y'all been pretty much picked over, eh?"

Picky: Quite so. Of course, from 1952 until his death Lord Peter was His Grace the Duke of Denver, although his eldest son chose to be known simply as Mr. Bredon Wimsey, at least until he actually succeeded to the title -- we don't know after that. I like to think that Bredon is one of the remaining hereditaries if he's still alive (he'd be 75 this year).

"Rise, Sir, from that semi-recumbent posture! It is most indecorous,"
--Lady Bracknell, in "The Importance of Being Earnest" (she is addressing Jack Worthing, who has knelt to propose to her daughter Gwendolen.)

And I believe the "widder" in "widdershins" is a variant of German "wider," meaning "backward."

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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