The scientific name of the structure commonly known as “Adam’s apple”, is “laryngeal mound” (prominentia laryngea). This bump is formed due to the protrusion of the thyroid cartilage surrounding the larynx (“voice box”) in the human neck towards the outside of the body. As it is usually larger in males, it becomes clearly visible in adulthood. Although it is also found in females; it is more difficult to see from the outside, since it is a little smaller due to its structure.

Both the proximate and ultimate causes for the difference in this structure in females and males are largely known (we recommend you to read our article here regarding the proximate and ultimate causation).

“Adam’s Apple” in a woman
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First, let’s look at the proximate cause: The anatomical difference in the formation of this structure causes the cartilage to look different from the outside. The place where the two sides of the thyroid cartilage surrounding the voice box meet has an angle of 90 degrees in males; at an angle of 120 degrees in females. For this reason, this structure appears much more pointed and protruding in male throats. Especially in men, the enlargement of this tissue with puberty increases the prominence even more.

Why Do We Have an Adam’s Apple?

As for the the evolutionary cause: The Adam’s apple is accepted as one of the “secondary sexual characteristics” seen in the sexes in the evolutionary process. In other words, in the later stages of development, it is one of the characteristics that distinguish males and females from each other and causes physical differences in the population to become evident.

Evolutionary analyses also reveal more about the function of structure: One of the most fundamental features that distinguishes humans from their close cousins ​​is the ability to speak, the most complex version of animal communication known. The voice box is one of the main actors of this ability along with our brain. It is evolutionarily advantageous for the voice box to be protected by soft but sufficiently durable tissue, just as our hair or skull protect our brain. Therefore, individuals with a harder and stronger cartilage tissue around the voice box may have been safer and more advantageous than others in the evolutionary process.

With further analysis, it is possible to obtain more detailed information about evolution. For example, the Adam’s apple has also been found to have an effect on the sounds produced in the voice box. Men with more prominent and bulging Adam’s apples have a deeper and fuller voice. It is thought that this tissue has an effect on the thickening of the voices of men in adolescence.

In addition, the loudness of the voice may have been a factor that could be influenced by Sexual Selection, one of the most powerful evolutionary mechanisms. If men were chosen for the depth of their voices (for which there is strong evidence); the Adam’s apple may have become more and more distinctive in the evolutionary process. What’s more is that, being louder, if not for sexual purposes, may have had an advantage in scaring off predators. This means that this trait is emphasized and strengthened also by Natural Selection.

Why Is It Called an “Adam’s Apple”?

There are two linguistic hypotheses about where the name of this structure derives from. The first one is the obvious one: It was thought that this structure was “stuck in our throats” because of the apple that Adam and his wife, Eve, who are believed to be “the first humans” in Abrahamic religions, ate and choked on, and on this story, the bump in our throat was called “Adam’s apple”.

However, theologians object to this hypothesis, saying that neither the Bible itself nor the Judeo-Christian inscriptions give such a name to this protrusion in our throats, nor do they specify the type of fruit that Adam ate in the Bible.

The protrusion, popularly known as the “Adam’s Apple”, is actually an anatomical structure known as the “Larynx Bump” and consists of a bone protrusion.

The second hypothesis is put forward by the linguist Alexander Gode: He ​​argues that this name is simply a translation error. The Adam’s apple expression means “pomum Adami” in Latin. This term was translated into Latin from the Hebrew phrase “tappuach ha man” pattern and it means “man’s protrusion”. The confusion arises from the fact that the Hebrew word “man” means “human”. At the same time, the word meaning “protrusion” in Hebrew also means “apple”. Therefore, the Hebrew phrase meaning “protrusion of man” may have been translated into Latin as “Adam’s Apple” and the phrase has been used incorrectly ever since. The medical term “prominentia laryngea” (laryngeal mound) was used for the first time in the Basle Nomina Anatomica book in 1895.

References and Further Reading