As you are probably aware, our contemporary English content is now available through (, and our old English dictionary site no longer exists.

As a result of this, this forum is now closed.

The English dictionary community team would like the opportunity to say a huge thanks to all of you who participated by posting questions and helping other community members.
We hope this forum was useful, and that you enjoyed being a part of it.

If you would like to get in touch with any OED-related queries, please write to
[email protected]

And if you would like to contribute suggestions to the OED, please do so by visiting:

Thank you very much indeed, and good bye!
The community team

Greetings + Why does the term 'tarsus' mean eyelid?

Hi all, I'm medical school student in south korea and writing to discuss about the origin of the term 'tarsus' or 'tarsal'!

'tarsus' means that, you know,
(1) The seven bones of the human tarsus form the ankle and upper part of the foot.
(2) A thin sheet of fibrous connective tissue which supports the edge of each eyelid. (Oxford Dic.)
and its origin is
from New Latin, from Greek tarsos flat surface, instep (Collins Eng. Dic.)

I'm wondering why the term 'tarsus' means those, especially eyelid. Despite there are so many 'a thin sheet' tissues in our body, why so? T-T
Why do we call only the eyelid 'tarsus'?
I'm curious about your professional, terminological or historical free thoughts.!

Thank you in advance!!


  • DavidCrosbieDavidCrosbie ✭✭✭
    edited May 2019

    The OED gives the etymology as

    modern Latin, < Greek ταρσός the flat of the foot between the toes and the heel; also the rim of the eyelid; in French tarse.

    So it wasn't in English that tarsus acquired these meanings.

    A reference tool which is usually reliable — though not as dependable as the OED — is Wiktionary. They state that ταρσός meant 'flat surface for drying'.

    The specific entry for the Greek word give these meanings:

    1. frame of wickerwork, crate, for drying cheese on
    2. mat of reeds
    3. mass of matted roots
    4. (anatomy) flat of the foot; palm of the hand
    5. (zoology) flat of the outstretched wing
    6. rows of oars on the sides of ships
    7. row of teeth in a saw

    The specific entry for the Latin word gives:

    1. (anatomy) The part of the foot between the tibia and fibula and the metatarsus.
    2. (anatomy) Any of the seven bones in this part of the foot.
    3. (anatomy) A plate of dense connective tissue found in each eyelid, attached to either the superior tarsal muscle (in the upper eyelid) or inferior tarsal muscle (lower eyelid), which aid with sympathetic control.
    4. (zoology) In insects and other arthropods, any of a series of articulations in the true foot; the last joint forming the foot in spiders.

    These meanings were in the recent version of Latin used in scholarship until a few centuries ago. It's not clear whether tarsus existed as a word in Classical Latin.

    When anatomists started writing in modern languages such a English, they chose to use the same word as the Latin predecessors in some of the same senses. Presumably the rather random collection of senses reflected the fact that they were interested in some features but not others.

    According to the OED the 'eyelid' meaning did not survive.

    1. The thin plate of condensed connective tissue found in each eyelid. Now rare or Obsolete.
Sign In or Register to comment.