I’ve been asked this more than once in my career.
It’s usually one of two anatomical components I’m being asked to name. They come in all sorts of shapes and sizes.
Stop it! I work in neurology, not urology.
Sort of dangly bit, more ‘leaf-shaped’ really
Do you know what they are and what they’re for?
The first one is the uvula. Believe it or not, this helps stop food and drink entering your nasal passages along with the soft palate (velum). Some people also use it when they speak.
The other one also stops food and drink going the wrong way. This time, it stops it entering the airway rather than into the nasal passages. It’s called the epiglottis. Some say it’s ‘leaf-shaped’.
When you swallow, your vocal cords are closed and the epiglottis covers the airway. This is why you must hold your breath when you swallow. You can’t breath in when your airway is closed off at the epiglottis and the vocal cords.
You can see in the below illustration where you find these dangly bits.
Uvula and epiglottis in situ
So the next time you take a drink or have a bite to eat, consider how you’re breathing changes. Your nasal passages are closed off and so is your airway.