tongue, muscular organ occupying the floor of the mouth in vertebrates. In some animals, such as lizards, anteaters, and frogs, it serves a food-gathering function. In humans, the tongue functions principally in chewing, swallowing, and speaking. The human tongue is covered by a mucous membrane containing small projections called papillae, which give it a rough surface. Tiny taste organs, or buds, are scattered over the surface of three of the four types of papillae, with large numbers concentrated on papillae found on the back and sides of the tongue. The appearance of the tongue is often an indication of body health; a pinkish-red color is normal. In impairment of the digestion and in certain feverish diseases, a yellowish coating forms. Local infection of the tongue is called thrush.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.