Dear Mr. Know It All: What is that uvula hanging in the back of my throat for? What recourse do I have if I get tired of it? —Phil Harris, San Diego
This one’s at the top of everybody’s list of tiresome body parts, barely edging out its downstream cohort, the appendix. But I’ll reveal here the secret life of the uvula, an enterprising little guy. When we’re woofing down a meal, nerve endings in the uvula and soft palate get a reading on the size of the wad of stuff we’re about to swallow and send out a general mayday if it’s too big. Then we gag the burger out. If the food passes inspection, the uvula also helps stop up the windpipe as we swallow so we don’t get a lungful of lunch. Not bad for such an unassuming little flesh flap. But if you’re determined to delete the dangling thingy, find yourself a throat surgeon with a laser. The world loses uvulas every day; most are therapeutically removed from toxic snorers. It’s the uvula and soft palate that vibrate when we saw major wood at night. So you can live without it, but it will limit your career horizons. No uvula, no vibrato; no vibrato, kiss opera singing good-bye.