Sphingosine is an unsaturated amino alcohol (C18H37O2N) found typically in nervous tissue, discovered in 1874 by one of the founding fathers of neuroscience and neurochemistry, German physician and scientist Dr. Johann Ludwig Wilhelm Thudichum (August 27, 1829 – September 7, 1901). Sphingosine proved so difficult to isolate and understand that when he finally understood what he was observing in the over 1000 human and animal brains he dissected and studied that he named it after the Sphinx of Ancient Egypt. A prolific writer and scientist, Dr. Thudichum wrote over 80 works, ranging from books on brain chemistry, a treatise on the pathology of urine, as well as a book on viticulture and wine. He so struggled with the riddle of sphingosine (and sphingomyelin, also identified and named by him) that he named it after the most famous riddler of all. Where did the X go? In Latin, the base or root of a noun or adjective is taken from the genitive singular, in this case Sphingos. The suffix -sine is from the Latin -inus, meaning like or resembling.
Top image of the chemical structure of sphingosine.
Image of the Sphinx of Tenerife by Juan Glez, used with permission under a Creative Commons 3.0 license.