Visceral literally means "pertaining to the interior of the body", and in addition to this literal meaning has two derived meanings.

First, visceral is often used as a synonym for gory. Hardly inapproriate, since most gory things do involve things that should, rightfully, be on the inside of the body. By extension, however, visceral can mean anything intense and perhaps violence, even if no actual cuts are made.

Visceral also refers to the sensations that reach us from the inside of our body, from the crude": "damn, I just drank three tablespoons of Tabasco sauce" to the sublime: "This view of the Grand Canyon is breathtaking". Although visceral is often used in American society to refer to emotional experiences that are somewhat unpleasent or overly intense, my own experience is that even very abstract, intellectual experiences have visceral feelings attached.

Visceral literally means of or related to the viscera, which dem bones has admirably defined here as "Innards, the guts. Bowels, intenstines...instinct" (it is also the plural of viscus, flesh). So, Glowing Fish's contention that it means the interior of the body is not exactly correct; it refers more particularly to the internal organs, once thought to be the seat of the emotions.

Building on this understanding, visceral is used figuratively to mean inner or instinctual. Visceral refers to emotions or ideas that are very deeply and intimately seated, intuitive and unreasoned, even crude and elemental. Visceral is thus the opposite of intellectual or elevated - by reason or otherwise. It refers to the earthy and the deeply felt at a gut level.

Vis"cer*al (?), a. [Cf. F. visc'eral, LL. visceralis.]

1. Anat.

Of or pertaining to the viscera; splanchnic.

2.

Fig.: Having deep sensibility.

[R.]

Bp. Reynolds.

Visceral arches Anat., the bars or ridges between the visceral clefts. -- Visceral cavitytube Anat., the ventral cavity of a vertebrate, which contains the alimentary canal, as distinguished from the dorsal, or cerebro-spinal, canal. -- Visceral clefts Anat., transverse clefts on the sides just back of the mouth in the vertebrate embryo, which open into the pharyngeal portion of the alimentary canal, and correspond to the branchial clefts in adult fishes.

 

© Webster 1913.

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