I've written about the word atlas before, but not about its numerous other applications. In anatomy, the C1 vertebra (the topmost bone of the spine) is often referred to as the atlas vertebra. This is a reference to the titan Atlas in Greek mythology, since the bone was thought to hold up the head just as Atlas held up the celestial heavens. There is also a mountain range called the Atlas Mountains. Although there are other theories, one major explanation for its etymology lies in the myth that Perseus showed the head of Medusa to Atlas, turning him to stone. According to that legend, the Atlas mountains are the remnants of the Titan's petrified body. Finally, Atlas was also the name for a family of intercontinental ballistic missiles used by the Air Force and, later, NASA. This term didn't have as much thought go into it. They just named something big and powerful after a mythological figure that was also big and powerful. It's cool to see the same classical influence present in these three very different things!
Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic, a senior studying government and linguistics at Harvard University, where I co-founded the Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Society. In addition to etymology, I also really enjoy trivia, politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, art history, and law.