What’s with the Adam’s apple? How come men have them and women don’t? What exactly is the purpose of having one? These are all good questions, and like any good question, they come with simple yet confusing answers.
A common misconception is that only men are entitled to having an Adam’s apple (it’s named after the very first man, is it not?) and women aren’t given the privilege of having one because this is a male-dominated society. This is as far away from the truth as possible; both men and women have Adam’s apples in their throats, but they’re just not as prominent in women as they are in men, for the most part.
During the early stages of childhood, both boys and girls start with thyroid cartilage that is similar in size. As the years go by and they hit puberty, they will both experience significant changes to their respective bodies. As for the young men, their larynxes (voice boxes) will become enlarged due to the extra levels of testosterone produced in their bodies, causing the voice box to stick out more prominently in the throat. The testosterone levels in blossoming young women will also increase, so their voice boxes will increase in size also, but rarely do they become as swollen as men’s.
There are various explanations as to why the Adam’s apple exists but you’re free to add your own ideas into the pool of ideas. Some argue that the Adam’s apple, along with the surrounding thyroid cartilage, protects the walls and front-most area of the larynx, and prevents us from inhaling or swallowing foreign substances (they haven’t helped teens when they take up the Tide Pod challenge so this is still debatable). Others say that there is no anatomical function of having one other than to give men (and some women) a deeper speaking and singing voice. They can also be used as a tell-tale sign of when a man is lying through his teeth or if he’s nervous, since repeated swallowing will make the apple bounce up and down.
Prominent, more pronounced Adam’s apples are more frequently found in men than in women, so it is a common way of determining somebody’s gender. However, the cartilage surrounding the voice box can fuse at any angle and direction in both men and women, so the final size of the apple varies from person to person. Some men have smaller Adam’s apples, and some women have bigger ones. In the end, the size of the apple doesn’t matter at all; what matters is the sign of your heart… Moving on…
Some women with more prominent Adam’s apples feel embarrassed due to its association with manliness, but this is just another misconception ingrained deeply in the minds of western society. Having a larger Adam’s apple does indeed deepen the voice, but in women their voices hardly affected by it. Very rarely do we hear a woman with a deep voice, even those with more visible Adam’s apples. The shape and size of the Adam’s apple is completely up to fate, so having a large, prominent one doesn’t mean you’re the alpha male, and having a small one doesn’t mean you were born in the wrong gender.
Well, if women also have Adam’s apples like males do, then where did the name “Adam’s apple” come from? We know that the medical term for the lump is actually prominentia laryngea (laryngeal prominence) but what’s with the whole “Adam” part?
There are believed to be two theories which describe the coining of the term Adam’s apple. The first theory starts with the 1913 version of Webster’s Dictionary which points at the Biblical retelling of Adam and Eve as a basis for the term. Adam consumed the forbidden fruit while in Heaven, and was cursed to live on Earth for the remaining days of his mortal life. The forbidden fruit supposedly left a lump in his throat, and his line of sons were all cursed with the same protruding feature on their throats.
This theory has a wonderful story behind the name Adam’s apple, but the basis of the story is not supported by the Bible or any other Abrahamic religious scripture. In fact, there’s no mention of the forbidden fruit being an apple. It might even have been a watermelon for all we know, and there’s no scripture that outright denies it. And didn’t Eve also partake of the forbidden fruit alongside Adam? Wasn’t she just as guilty of the sin as he was?
The second theory for why the enlarged voice box became known as an Adam’s apple is because of a mistranslation from ancient Hebrew to Latin and ultimately into English. In ancient Hebrew, the Adam’s apple was known as tappuach ha adam which means apple of man. However, adam simple means man, but tappuach can be translated into either apple or swollen. The complete translation of the phrase would either be apple of man or swelling of a man, the latter being more reasonable.
However, when the term was picked up by Latin scribes, they took the former translation and made a direct translation into their own language, pomum Adami, literally meaning Adam’s apple. The western world took hold of the screwed up translation and the rest is history.
So there you have it. Both men and women have Adam’s apples in their throats but they are generally more prominent in men than in women. All children begin life with similar-sized Adam’s apples that become enlarged when they hit puberty, but growing males will swell to greater sizes which makes the Adam’s apple pop forward in their throats. The exact function of having one is still argued to date, so you can throw your theories around and nothing can prove you wrong. As for the name Adam’s apple, this was just a hilarious mistranslation that stuck, and nobody in time ever corrected it. We can learn to use the correct medical term, prominentia laryngea, but that’ll just add to the confusion of the little-thought-of organ found in our throats.