“Adam’s apple” is the name for the section of the larynx in the middle of the neck that is particularly prominent and easy to feel, especially in men. In most men the Adam’s apple is clearly visible at the front of the neck and moves up and down when swallowing and speaking. The Adam’s apple is a thickening at the front of the so-called thyroid cartilage, the largest cartilage of the larynx.
That the Adam’s apple is more pronounced in men than in women is due to the different development during puberty. Above all the male sex hormones contribute to the formation of the Adam’s apple. The formation of the Adam’s apple during puberty is associated with a change in the voice (voice change).
This is because the vocal chords are located behind the larynx and are stretched by the acute-angled, forward-growing Adam’s apple. And since men get a deeper voice than women (up to an octave lower), their vocal chords have to become much longer. Women also have an Adam’s apple.
However, their vocal cords are much more inconspicuous and only about five to six millimetres thick. In men, the larynx grows by an additional six to seven millimetres due to increased production of the hormone testosterone. This makes the cartilage visible as Adam’s apple.
The term “Adam’s apple” for the larynx projection refers to the biblical story of the fall of Adam and Eve. Seduced by the snake, curious Eve bit the forbidden fruit and Adam also tasted it. This forbidden fruit from the Tree of Knowledge is usually depicted in medieval art as an apple.
According to a popular belief, Adam got this apple stuck in his throat as a proverbial punishment for his sin and as a result the man was now marked forever – with the “Adam’s apple” on his neck. Up to the 19th century, the laryngeal protrusion was still called “Pomum adami”, which translated means Adam’s apple, even in medicine. Nowadays the Latin term “Prominentia laryngea” (laryngeal protrusion) is in common use.
Another explanation for the name of the Adam’s apple can be found in the Hebrew language. The ancient Hebrew word for thyroid cartilage is also the word for apple. And since the Adam’s apple is only visible in men, the Old Hebrew word for “man” has been added. Man means “Adam” in Hebrew – this is also how the term Adam’s apple can have originated.
Design and function
The epiglottis (the epiglottis) closes the windpipe when swallowed, so that food and drink can only pass through the oesophagus into the stomach and cannot be “breathed in” through the windpipe and end up in the lungs by mistake. If a foreign body is “inhaled”, this is called “aspiration” and this can lead to many complications, such as shortness of breath and infections. The front wall of the larynx is formed by the so-called thyroid cartilage.
The vocal chords are also attached to the thyroid cartilage. These are made to vibrate by air currents and thus make voice formation possible. So when the larynx grows forward in men during puberty and forms the Adam’s apple, the vocal chords also grow in length and this leads to vocal fold.
As the length of the vocal chords approximately doubles (from about twelve millimetres to 2.2 centimetres), the voice becomes darker. This is why the voice of an adult sounds deeper than that of a child. The growth of the vocal chords is not uniform, so at times some are shorter and others longer.
That is why in pubescent boys you sometimes hear a “beeping”, a jumping back and forth between the child’s and the man’s voice, the voice “breaks”. The Adam’s apple also belongs to the secondary sexual characteristics. These are gender-specific characteristics on the basis of which an individual can be assigned to the male or female sex.
The secondary sex characteristics develop during puberty. They signal sexual maturity and complete the sexual appearance of male or female. Together with the Adam’s apple and voice change, increasing body hair and beard growth are also part of the male’s appearance.