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Back from an absence. Did you miss your words? This week we'll present some with interesting and perhaps unexpected histories.

Our first is a horse named for a dove – in Spanish, a paloma, as in a song you may know:
    Una paloma blanca.
    I'm just a bird in the sky.
    Una paloma blanca.
    Over the mountains I fly.
    No one can take
    My freedom away.
A dove of a different color gave its paloma name to a like-colored horse. The links show the resemblance.

palomino – a tan or pale golden horse with a white mane and tail
[from Spanish, "little dove", through American Spanish.
(The dictionaries say "young dove", not "little dove", but I think they are mistaken.)]
    We pulled up to the big, red barn. I sprang out of the car. A young palomino stood peering through the door at me. I made my way toward him, and he began walking straight toward me. The look of intelligence and innocence on his face captivated me, and he was just my size. When we reached each other, he sniffed my jacket and studied me from under the blonde eyelashes that edged his dark eyes. He parked himself in front of me and sweetly soaked up all my caresses.
    . . ."I think you'd better go get the checkbook," I said to my husband. I took the lead rope. "Come on," I said with a smile in my voice. "You're mine now."
    – The Christian Science Monitor, Jan. 5, 2009 (ellipses omitted)

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In a medieval town, with flimsy buildings in close proximity, an uncontrolled fire could spread disastrously. Many towns required that fires be covered at night, when they were likely to be untended. A church bell would announce the hour at which one was required to cover fire. In Old French "cover fire" is called cuevrefeu (from cuvrir to cover + feu; spellings vary), and English took on that word.

curfew – a requirement to remain indoors at specified hours, typically at night; also, the time at which such a restriction begins

Our quote preserves the earlier sense of the curfew bell. It's from a poem which was one of Queen Victoria's favorites, and I've linked you to an 1883 illustrated edition. I'd like to believe that Her Royal Highness owned this very edition.
    "Sexton," Bessie's white lips faltered, pointing to the prison old,
    With its walls so tall and gloomy, moss-grown walls dark, damp, and cold, —
    "I've a lover in the prison, doomed this very night to die
    At the ringing of the curfew : and no earthly help is nigh.
    Cromwell will not come till sunset;" and her lips grew strangely white,
    As she spoke in husky whispers, "Curfew must not ring to-night!"
    Curfew Must Not Ring To-Night, by Rose Hartwick Thorpe (who also authored Remember the Alamo)

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Today's word is a multiple oddity. It names a grotesque animal; it says "duck" though the creature is nothing like a duck; it has an odd sound, an interesting etymology, and a weird spelling.

Clams feed by sucking in seawater, from which they extract plankton as their food. Clams that burrow under the seabed for protection, and spend the rest of their lives there, get their seawater through a long neck that stretches up to the top of the seabed. A deeper burrower, of course, of course, needs a long neck, which can be a gross thing resembling a thick floppy hose, among other things. (I'll be delicate.¹)

One large species burrows up to three feet deep, and so you have to dig deep to get it. Its name means "dig deep" in the language of the local Native Americans. The name is pronounced "gooey duck" (!) For unknown reasons, it's spelled quite differently.

geoduck (pronounced gooey duck) – a very large, edible burrowing clam of the Pacific coast of the northwest US
    [F]ishermen are cashing in on the growing yen for geoduckts, a funny-looking mollusk turned worldwide delicacy … . Its long, leathery neck can stretch to the length of a baseball bat or recoil to a wrinkled nub. The neck resembles an aardvark's snout, an elephant's trunk or a monstrous prehistoric earthworm emerging from a fist-size shell, among other things. … A single geoduck can fetch $60 in a Hong Kong fish market.
    – Smithsonian Magazine, March 2009

    A geoduck is a clam as big as a discus with a neck as long as a boarding-house arm reaching for the last pork chop. … The geoduck stuck his long neck into the news last week …
    – Tri-City Herald (Pasco, Washington), July 20, 1948

¹ See photo captioned, "for some odd reason, it has reputed powers as an aphrodisiac." This clam is an official mascot for the a local college, whose motto is Let It All Hang Out. It has been known to attack human females, but the victim does not seem unwilling. <wink>

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quote:
It has been known to attack human females, but the victim does not seem unwilling. <wink>

I assume that it comes from one of the Salishan languages. One of the tribes in this language group is the Bella Coola.http://www.native-languages.org/nuxalk.htm I've heard geoducks attack them. Big Grin
 
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I hadn't commented on the poem above for "curfew," but how nice. Smile
 
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Wikipedia says geoduck is derived Lushootseed (a Salishan language) and that "its phonemically counterintuitive spelling is likely the result of poor transcription rather than anything having to do with ducks." Here's how The Word Detective explains its weird pronunciation:
quote:
"Geoduck" is indeed usually pronounced "GOOEY-duck," although an acceptable alternate pronunciation is "GWEH-duck," which is probably closer to its original Native American form of, as you say, something akin to "gweduck."

"Geoduck" is actually a good example of "folk etymology," a term which sounds as if it means "making up word origins" but is actually a specific mode of linguistic transformation. Confronted with a unfamiliar word, often from a foreign source, people tweak it a bit over time to conform more closely to English words. So a word that sounds like "gweduck" is transformed into "geoduck," as both "geo" (as in "geography") and "duck" are familiar English elements. However, probably since "geo" didn't make much sense and clams are kind of "gooey," the pronunciation then shifted further to "gooeyduck." The result makes no sense at all (and implies that the critter is a sticky bird), but "geoduck" and "gooeyduck" have been around since the 1880s, so it's a bit late to argue.
 
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Speaking of (geo)ducks . . .

Those who know French, at least enough to read a fancy menu, know that carnard is French for "duck". But in English it means a hoax.

How did a Gallic duck come to mean an English hoax? The authorities report that the French had a saying, vendre un canard à moitié ("to half-sell a duck"), meaning something like "to fool someone into buying something which is not what he thinks it is". (Reminds me of our "to buy a pig in a poke".) Hence canard came to be a French word for "hoax", and came into English with that meaning.

canard – a hoax; a false report; more specifically: a deliberately false or misleading story, circulated to damage an opponent
    [Justice Thomas] had an understandable sensitivity to the common (and false) noting that he functioned as Scalia's pawn on the Court. … What was notable, though, was that Thomas attributed this canard to racial not political bias As he put it in a speech …, "Because I'm black; it is said that Justice Scalia does my work for me. I understand how that works. But I rarely see him, so he must have a chip in my brain … ."
    – Jeffrey Toobin, The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court
 
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quote:
Originally posted by Asa Lovejoy:
One of the tribes in this language group is the Bella Coola.http://www.native-languages.org/nuxalk.htm I've heard geoducks attack them. Big Grin


Nuxálk is an interesting language. Apparently this is an utterance in that language:

[xɬpʼχʷɬtʰɬpʰɬːskʷʰt​͡sʼ]
'he had had in his possession a bunchberry plant.'

Where are the vowels?
 
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Where are the vowels?

Hidden and wrapped in geoduck tape? But seriously many of the consonants in that word/sentence are fricatives. Georgian (and some other Caucasian languages) allow for words with few vowels, too. The Abkhaz language supposedly only has one vocalic phoneme, but that is controversial.


Ceci n'est pas un seing.
 
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Originally posted by zmježd:
Where are the vowels?

Hidden and wrapped in geoduck tape? But seriously many of the consonants in that word/sentence are fricatives. Georgian (and some other Caucasian languages) allow for words with few vowels, too. The Abkhaz language supposedly only has one vocalic phoneme, but that is controversial.


What I mean is if this is a phonetic transcription, which is what I assume because of the square brackets, I would just expect some epenthetic vowels in an utterance that long.

Listening to the this, I'm hearing lots of syllabic consonants, for instance the first m in smsmanu is syllabic I think.

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Continuing with animal words. Mankind being what it is, it's understandable that there should be many words meaning "dung", but I can't imagine why would anyone would feel a need for a dung-term specific to one particular animal. Yet there are several such words:
    fumet – deer dung
    crotttels – hare dung
    scumber – fox or dog dung
    guano – seabird dung
One more such word has an interesting etymology.

spraints – otter dung [from Old French espraindre, meaning "to squeeze out"]

The connection between "squeeze out" and "dung" is obvious, but I have no idea why it should be particularly applied to an otter. This particular word was recently used in the press, though with a slightly different spelling.
    A monitoring programme has been tracking the creatures [otters] throughout the winter and found signs of spraint, otter droppings used to mark territory, bank of the River Churn … . Spraint was also found on the River Thames … . [An] officer for CWPS said: "This is great news … ."
    – Wilts and Gloucestershire Standard, ‎Apr. 1, 2009‎
"Great news"? Well, each to his own taste, I suppose.
 
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The connection between "squeeze out" and "dung" is obvious, but I have no idea why it should be particularly applied to an otter

Maybe they look especially squeezed out, the way cow droppings look variously like chips, flop and patties.

quote:
Spraint was also found on the River Thames … . [An] officer for CWPS said: "This is great news … ."

I'll bet they were excited. Biologists love scat. The kids and I once took a day trip with a biologist to the oak savanna of northern California. He gleefully dissected coyote and fox scumbers, as well as feral pig poop (that's gotta have its own name). He was particularly happy about the coyote droppings, as they were composed entirely of the remains of large lubber grasshoppers.
 
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Spoor were important to the Elizabethans and the Tudors, for the hunt.

In addition to those cited, there are boar fiants and bagder werdrobe.

Recall the care with which our ancestors distinguished the animals themselves into "venery" (red deer, hare, bear, wolf) and "chase" (fallow deer, fox, marten. roe).

Continuing the idea of the hunt, there are at least 30 terms from Elizabethan and Tudor use, for how to carve each animal. If site admin. suggests the proper place here, glad to share those.


RJA
 
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Unless you have read the exploits of the great linguist Dr. John Dolittle, you are probably unaware of a certain rare and strange animal, never seen in captivity.
    Pushmi-pullyus are now extinct. They had no tail, but a head at each end, and sharp horns on each head. They were very shy and terribly hard to catch. The Africans get most of their animals by sneaking up behind them while they are not looking. But you could not do this with the pushmi-pullyu—because, no matter which way you came to toward him, he was always facing you. And besides, only one half of him slept at a time. The other head wash always awake—and watching. This was why they were never caught and never seen in zoos.
A similar push-pull name has been given to a musical instrument.

sackbut – a Renaissance-era musical instrument: a bass trumpet with a slide like that of a trombone for altering the pitch
[from old French saquier to pull + (probably) bouter to push]
[The old French word saqueboute originally meant "a lance with an iron hook, for pulling men off their horses".]
    The introductory Deus in adjutorium begins with a solo tenor followed by a choral response in massive block chords. This was given the full treatment with the colourful accompaniment of period strings, sackbuts and cornetts in full cry.
    – Hampshire Chronicle, July 15, 2008 (ellipses omitted)
"Sackbut" was also used to pun on "a butt [cask] of sack [sherry]". In the King James Bible, the word "sackbut" appears several times in Daniel 3 as a musical instrument But this was copying an earlier mistranslation: the much-earlier Aramaic and Vulgate bibles use a similar-sounding word that names a stringed instrument, not a horn.
 
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Today's word, describing hair, is from Latin meaning "cushion stuffing".
tomentose – covered with short, dense, matted hairs.

The word is used almost exclusively as a technical botany word (especially to describe a hairy leaf, as on an African violet). But it seems to me that it perfectly suits a hirsute man, hairy of chest.

For example, here is the late great sportswriter Red Smith, describing part of the crowd assembled for the 1973 Kentucky Derby horserace:
    [T]he college kids once again made up a majority in the biggest, barest, most painfully sunburned horde ever funneled into this cavalry post. They made a display of skin, nude of foot, back, and abdomen. [A] pack of young men tossed their girls 15 to 20 feet aloft on a blanket. With faintly alcoholic but warmly courteous insistence, two tomentose knights persuaded strangers to drink from a two-quart carton of screwdrivers. Frisbees sailed and dipped like gulls on the beach.
    – Red Smith (ellipses omitted), in To the Swift (Joe Drape, editor)
 
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"Cushion stuffing" sounds closer to "bombastic" than hirsute or hypertrichosistic...


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Just a few weeks after Wordcraft discusses the many varieties of spoor, the Star Tribune gets into the act: http://www.startribune.com/local/46906792.html


RJA
 
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The comments following that story illustrate the general lack of knowledge of some posters. Poop inspection ferrets out possible diseases and digestive problems within not only the zoo animals but the species in general. And I know from experience it's not much fun standing under and trying to keep up with a cotton-top tamarin waiting to catch that individual's poop so it doesn't get mixed with the others in the exhibit.

Sorry, too lazy to edit that long sentence.


Give a man a fish and he can eat for one day; give a man a fishing pole and he will find an excuse to never work again.
Nollidj is power.
 
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