The Human Tongue

Though the tongue may seem like a simple organ, it has a wide range of purposes, such as licking, breathing, tasting, swallowing and articulating speech. Its many talents are due to the construction of the tongue.



Typically a human tongue is around 3.3 inches (8.5 centimeters) for men and 3.1 inches (7.9 cm) for women, according to the University of Edinburgh. The world’s longest tongue is 3.97 inches (10.1 cm) long, from the tip to the middle of the closed top lip, and belongs to Nick Stoeberl of Salinas, California, according to Guinness Book of World Records. The longest tongue for a woman is 3.8 inches (9.75 cm), belonging to Chanel Tapper of Los Angeles.


The tongue consists of eight interwoven, striated muscles that can move in any direction, making it quite flexible. Throughout the muscles are glands and fat, while the outside is covered by a mucus membrane. The top of the tongue, also called the dorsum, is covered with papillae, tiny nodes that contain the taste buds and the serous glands.

The serous glands secrete some of the fluid found in saliva, while the taste buds taste food through receptors that send information to the brain. Receptors are nerve endings that have a chemical reaction to the food that is being eaten. There are different reactors for different types of flavors, and there are around 50 to 150 taste receptor cells inside each taste bud, according to Encyclopedia Britannica

It is a myth that different parts of the tongue taste different things. While it is true that different receptors taste different flavors, these various receptors are bunched in four places on the tongue. Most of the taste receptors are found on the tip of the tongue, according to the University of Texas Medical Branch.


The bottom of the tongue is smooth. Its purple color comes from the many blood vessels that run along the bottom of the tongue. 

The root of the tongue is the bottom part of the tongue that can’t be seen. It has arteries, bundles of nerves and muscles that branch out to the rest of the tongue. 

Sticking it out


Sticking out your tongue is considered unacceptable behavior in many cultures, but it is a sign of respect in others, according to Bright Hub Education. In Tibet, sticking out the tongue is a greeting. When two people meet, they stick out their tongues at each other. Among the Maori people of New Zealand, sticking out the tongue is part of a war chant and is meant to intimidate the enemy. If a Maori woman sticks out her tongue, it is a sign of defiance. 

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