Where do we get the term “Siamese twins”?

A STAFF REPORT FROM THE STRAIGHT DOPE SCIENCE ADVISORY BOARD

Dear Straight Dope:

Where do we get the term "Siamese twins"? Was fetal conjunction a common occurence in Siam? Is there such a place as Siam?

Mac replies:

Lord, what have you let happen to the public schools? Of course there is a place called “Siam.” You can find the word in any decent dictionary; it’s an older term for “Thailand,” and still survives in place names (“Gulf of Siam”) and other terms. Where do you think “Siamese cats” originally came from? “Siamese fighting fish”? “Anna and the King of Siam”?

The term “Siamese twins” was popularized by P.T. Barnum while exhibiting Chang and Eng (1811-1874), joined brothers born in Siam (although of Chinese ancestry). According to the People’s Chronology, the twins, joined at the breastbone by a thick ligament, were “discovered by British merchant Robert Hunter, … exhibited by U.S. showman P. T. Barnum, [married] two North Carolina women, sire[d] 22 children between them [so to speak], maintain[ed] two separate households, and … amass[ed] a fortune of $60,000.” Shows you what two guys can accomplish if they stick together.

Send questions to Cecil via cecil@straightdope.com.

STAFF REPORTS ARE WRITTEN BY THE STRAIGHT DOPE SCIENCE ADVISORY BOARD, CECIL'S ONLINE AUXILIARY. THOUGH THE SDSAB DOES ITS BEST, THESE COLUMNS ARE EDITED BY ED ZOTTI, NOT CECIL, SO ACCURACYWISE YOU'D BETTER KEEP YOUR FINGERS CROSSED.

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