Homunculus \huh-MUHNG-kyuh-luhs\ , noun;
1. An artificially made miniature person or creature, supposedly produced in a flask by an alchemist
2. A fully formed, miniature human body believed, according to some medical theories of the 16th and 17th centuries, to be contained in the spermatozoon
3. A diminutive human being
4. The human fetus
This word dates to the 1650's and comes from Latin homunculus, which is literally "little person."
Around 1700 a scientist named Nicolas Hartsoeker discovered 'animalcules' in semen, which led to a theory that sperm was a "little man" (a homunculus) that was placed inside a woman and grew into a baby. This explanation satisfied most people since conception was such a mystery. Later someone pointed out that if each sperm contained a homunculus that was identical to an adult but smaller, than each homunculus contained sperm of its own. How meta. This objection didn't present much of a problem, however, because it explained how Adam's original sin transferred to the rest of us: All of humanity was already present in his testes. A more problematic question was: Why do children resemble both parents if the father is the only contributor? Some people believed that this could be explained by assimilated maternal characteristics from spending time in the womb.
This theory has since been disproved.
Today's word and the first definition were both taken from Dictionary.com's 'Word of the Day' for Friday, April 22
Etymologies come from the Oxford English Dictionary and/or Etymonline.com