Aristotelian dental logic

Every introductory class in biological anthropology talks about wisdom teeth, the common name for human third molars. Around ninety percent of my students in any given semester have had these pulled, or never got them at all. Problems with the eruption or alignment of the third molars are very common, causing pain or infection. Even in cases where the teeth might ultimately not pose a long-term problem, many dentists pull them as a prophylactic. Natural cases of non-eruption are fairly common also. Sometimes these are nevertheless present, and may be removed surgically. Other times, the third molars never formed at all. As a result of both natural variation and orthodontic practice, it is increasingly rare for adults to have wisdom teeth.

Since this natural variation is so well-known to anthropologists, I was intrigued to find in a comment to a post at Gene Expression that Aristotle believed men had more teeth than women. I went in search of the essential citation, and found it in "The History of Animals," book 2, part 1 (translated by D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson):

Males have more teeth than females in the case of men, sheep, goats, and swine; in the case of other animals observations have not yet been made: but the more teeth they have the more long-lived are they, as a rule, while those are short-lived in proportion that have teeth fewer in number and thinly set.
Part 4
The last teeth to come in man are molars called 'wisdom-teeth', which come at the age of twenty years, in the case of both sexes. Cases have been known in women upwards. of eighty years old where at the very close of life the wisdom-teeth have come up, causing great pain in their coming; and cases have been known of the like phenomenon in men too. This happens, when it does happen, in the case of people where the wisdom-teeth have not come up in early years.

There may be no accounting for Aristotle's claim that men have more teeth than women, since on average they are the same. On the other hand, with the variation in third molar eruption it is quite possible that the women available for Aristotle to examine might have -- by chance -- had fewer teeth. The idea that there is a systematic difference between men and women would appear to be belied by the following section, where Aristotle clearly discusses the presence of the wisdom teeth in both sexes. This part is a vivid illustration of the problems of the posterior dentition in general -- ancient Greeks and modern Americans alike.

I was similarly fascinated to see that "wisdom teeth" was a translation from the ancient Greek. Here's the entry from the Online Etymology Dictionary:

Wisdom teeth so called from 1848 (earlier teeth of wisdom, 1668), a loan-translation of L. dentes sapientiae, itself a loan-transl. of Gk. sophronisteres (used by Hippocrates, from sophron "prudent, self-controlled"), so called because they usually appear ages 17-25, when a person reaches adulthood.

Here I thought it was just one of those old sayings nobody could account for. And did you know that "catty-corner" comes all the way from Middle English?