Sunday, 13 August 2017


Dogs last week and, for the many birds I saw on the same short break, our avian friends this. Of course no gull could ever be considered a friend, they always look very angry.

Albatross - interestingly an alteration of the Spanish or Portuguese alcatraz 'large web-footed sea bird', although originally referring to the pelican. This comes from the Arabic al-ghattas 'sea eagle' and related to Portuguese alcatruz 'the bucket of a water wheel'.

Auk - from the Old Norse alka originally imitative of its cry.

Bantam - a place name, a Dutch settlement on the island of Java.

Blackbird - it is well known the female is brown, however correctly the male is not actually black but a very dark brown.

Blue tit - again named for its colour.

Booby - the adjective referring to a person means 'stupid', this considered a reasonable description of these ungainly seabirds.

Budgerigar - a native of Australia named from budgeri 'good' and gar 'cockatoo'.

Bullfinch - a composite of 'bull', a description of its head and neck, with 'finch' a Germanic word imitative of its call.

Bunting - derived either from a Brythonic word for 'plump' or a Germanic bunt or 'speckled'.

Bustard - often said to come from Old French bistarde and itself from Latin avis tarda but this 'slow bird' does not accurately describe the creature.

Canary - named for it being found on Canary Island, itself named for the Island of Dogs.

Chaffinch - another finch, named for its call, this time the prefix points to its habit of eating the chaff from grain on farms.

Chicken - a Germanic name, the root imitative of its call.

Cockatoo - from a Malay or Austronesian word kakatua 'elder sibling' and tua 'old'.

Condor - from the Quechua cuntur, simply their name for this bird.

Cormorant - from Late Latin corvus marinus 'sea raven'.

Crane - from Proto-Indo-European gere 'to cry hoarsely'.

Crow - an Old English word, imitative of the bird's cry.

Cuckoo - again, imitative of the bird's cry.

Curlew - from Latin currere 'to run quickly', ultimately Proto-Indo-European kers 'to run'.

Cygnet - came to English from French cigne 'swan' and ultimately from Proto-Indo-European keuk 'to be white', which a cygnet isn't.

Dipper - aptly named for its repeated action in fast-moving water.

Dodo - is from the Portuguese doudo 'fool, simpleton'.

Dove - a Germanic reference to its flight as it comes from the root for 'dive'.

Eagle - named as the 'dark-coloured' bird, as it is so often seen in silhouette.

Eider - a kind of duck named from the Old Norse aethar or 'duck'.

Falcon - from the Latin falcis 'curved blade, pruning hook, sickle, war scythe'.

Finch - again the name imitative of its call.

Flamingo - from the Greek phoinikopteros literally meaning 'red-feathered'.

Goose - is from the Proto-Indo-European ghans 'goose, swan'.

Grebe - some of the species of grebe are crested, hence the name from Breton krib 'a comb'.

Gull - effectively its name means 'one who will swallow anything'. Yes, that's the gull.

Hawk - ultimately from Proto-Indo-European kap 'to grasp'.

Hen - derived from Proto-Indo-European kan 'to sing'.

Heron - from an Indo-European root imitative of its cry.

Jackdaw - both elements are imitative of the bird's cry.

Jay - again named from its harsh cry.

Kestrel - again imitative of its cry, but this time related to the Latin crepitare 'to rattle'.

Kingfisher - self-explanatory.

Kite - once again imitative of its cry.

Kiwi - named by the Maoris as what they perceived as its cry.

Lapwing - has a Germanic root meaning 'leaper-winker'.

Lark - from Proto-Indo-European leig 'to play'.

Magpie - the two syllables describe the 'chattering bird'.

Mallard - it fundamentally means 'male'.

Merganser - from Latin mergus 'waterfowl, diver' and from mergere 'to dip, immerse'.

Merlin - simply means 'small hawk'.

Nightingale - is Germanic for 'night singer'.

Oriole - named from a Latin root meaning 'gold'.

Ostrich - effectively from the Greek strouthos megale 'big sparrow'.

Owl - a Germanic origin imitative of its call.

Parakeet - thought to be from the Italian parrocchetto literally 'little priest'.

Partridge - comes from the Greek perdesthai 'to break wind' and a reference to the whirring sound made by the bird's wings in flight.

Penguin - named from the Old Welsh for 'white head' and yet look at any penguin and you will see it has a black head. What the name first referred to was the great auk, which did have a white head.

Peregrine - comprised of per ager 'away from the land'.

Pheasant - from the Greek for 'Phasian bird', the birds were particularly numerous along the river Phasis leading to the Black Sea.

Pigeon - is an Old French word meaning 'young dove'.

Plover - from the Latin plovarius 'belonging to the rain'.

Ptarmigan - of uncertain origin but likely realted to the Greek pteron 'wing'.

Raven - another Germanic name imitative of the bird's cry.

Redstart - basically means 'red tail'.

Rook - from roots such as Gaelic roc 'croak' and Sanskrit kruc 'to cry out'.

Rooster - literally 'the roosting bird'.

Shrike - from Old Norse referring to 'the bird with a shrill call'.

Sparrow - from the Greek spergoulos 'small field bird'.

Swan - from Proto-Indo-European swen 'to sing, make sound'.

Tercel - the male falcon, thought to be named from Latin tertius 'a third' as the male is a third smaller than the female.

Tit - an old word for any small animal, be a bird, rodent or anything else.

Vulture - from the Latin vellere 'to pluck, tear'.

Whippoorwill - imitative of its call.

Woodpecker - of obvious derivation as indeed is the dialect name in the East Midlands of 'nicker'.

And before anyone asks, no I didn't see all these birds.

Sunday, 6 August 2017


Never been a dog person myself, that doesn't mean I'm a cat person either. I'm not against animals, just never could relate to the idea of a pet. Anthropomorphising creatures never amused me as a child either - probably the reason I loathed Disney. Anyway I digress, back to dogs.

On a short break last week I overheard a conversation between a person with a dog and another who asked what breed it was, the answer given is it was a cross between a Shih Tzu and a Poodle - this apparently gives a Shih-poo. Now thoroughly irked by this awful creation - wouldn't Tzu-dle have been a better idea? - I thought I'd look at where other dog breeds originated. Dog people will probably enjoy this, too.

Afghan - a breed of hunting dog named in 1895, it is taken from the name of the country. I defined Afghanistan in an earlier post.

Airedale - named after a Yorkshire valley in which the River Aire flows, this discussed in an earlier post.

Alsatian - adopted as the name for the German Shepherd in 1917, well there was a war on, you know. The name comes from Alsace, itself giving a name to an undesirable area of London in the 1690s. Alsace was a region between Frrance and Germany, the place name from Old High German Ali-sazzo meaning 'inhabitant of the other (bank of the Rhine). Note in the 1690s 'Alsatian' was a term referring to 'a London criminal'.

Basenji - bred around the northeastern Congo and known in Swahili as mbwa shenzi this name means 'wild dog'.

Basset - a diminutive form of Old French bas meaning 'low'.

Beagle - Snoopy will be delighted to learn this comes from the French becguele 'noisy person' and derived from bayer 'open wide' and guele 'mouth'.

Bedlington - a weird looking thing named after the town of Bedlington in Northumberland, itself from Old English and referring to 'the farmstead associated with a man called Bedla or Betla'.

Bloodhound - of obvious origins considering its famous tracking abilities, what may be of more interest is the origin of the constituent parts in 'to swell' and 'dog' respectively.

Border terrier - known as such because of its association with the Border Hunt in Northumberland.

Borzoi - from the Russian borzoy meaning 'swift, quick'.

Boston - originally a Lincolnshire place name but better known as the capital of the state of Massachussetts and discussed in that earlier blog post.

Boxer - a dog known for its pugnaciousness, the word 'boxer' is the agent noun of 'box', itself taken to mean 'blow'.

Bulldog - unknown as to whether this was a reference to its bull-like stance or it may have been used to bait bulls. Now 'bull' itself comes from Proto-Indo-European bhel which is exactly the same root as found for 'blood' (above) in 'to swell'.

Cairn - named as it was bred specifically to hunt down quarry between the cairns of the Scottish Highlands. Incidentally 'cairn' shares a root with 'horn' in meaning 'the highest part of the body'.

Chihuahua - named after the state of Chihuahua in Mexico, a name often disputed but the majority tend to favour a Nahuatl origin meaning 'the place where the water of the rivers meet', a rather long definition when 'confluence' will suffice.

Clumber - named from Clumber Park in Nottinghamshire, which seems to be a combination of an old British river name Clun (never understood) and bre 'hill'.

Clydesdale - another from a place name, or rather a river name and discussed under an earlier post.

Chow - known in China as songshi quan or 'puffy lion dog', which will undoubtedly please owners of this, one of the ancient breeds, more than the meaning of the name chow 'food'.

Cocker spaniel - comes from its original use to hunt woodcock.

Collie - shares an origin with the sheep term colley 'sheep with black face and legs'. Middle English referred to this as a colfox 'coal fox', while colley is a Somerset dialect term for the blackbird.

Corgi - is from the Welsh 'dwarf' and ci 'dog'.

Dachschund - is German for 'badger dog'.

Dalmatian - said to be named from the Croatian area of Dalmatia, itself from Proto-Indo-European dhal 'to bloom' and used to refer to the young animals seen on the mountain pastures.

Dandy dinmont - named after a character in Sir Walter Scott's novel Guy Mannering, one James Davidson.

Deerhound - of obvious meaning but of interest is the origin of 'deer' in Proto-Indo-European dheu 'cloud, breath' and ultimately simply referring to something that was alive but not human.

Dingo - is from the language Dharruk, this spoken by those found resident in the area around modern Sydney when Europeans first arrived, where din-go simply means 'tame dog'.

Dobermann - German for 'fox terrier'.

Elkhound - another of obvious derivation, with the name 'elk' derived from the root el 'red, brown'.

Foxhound - another of obvious origin, the word 'fox' derived from Proto-Indo-European puk 'tail'.

Fox terrier - (see above)

Golden retriever - another obvious name, although we could add 'golden' comes from a root meaning 'shine' and 'retriever', for its ability to return game undamaged, from a root meaning 'to turn'.

Great dane - comes from Denmark, where the people of the mark 'border' were the Danes, themselves named for the den or 'low ground'. Ironic considering the size of the dog.

Greyhound - as many will realise, a greyhound is not grey (well very rarely), and colour is not the origin. Here the origin is grig 'bitch', it is common to find a creature named for the female.

Griffon - an alternative spelling of 'griffin', likely used to mean 'hybrid' as the mythological griffin had features of the eagle and the lion.

Harrier - uncertain but this hunting dog could be from the Middle French errier 'wanderer' or from the verb 'harry' (which is the origin of the bird known by the same name) and thus derived from a root meaning 'war, army'.

Husky - was known as the hoskey until the early 19th century, a word also used to mean 'eskimo', itself from the Proto-Algonquian language where ask 'raw' and imo 'eat' described their diet.

Irish setter - clearly named from its associated with Ireland, a place name meaning 'the land of the Irish' and the people taking their name from the root peie 'to be fat' - not a reference to their waistline but the productivity of the land. The word 'setter' is the agent noun of 'set', a reference to being 'set' on the game when hunting.

Kelpie - little is understood of this name but it may come from Gaelic colpach 'heifer, steer, colt', possibly as it was used much as a sheepdog would be.

King Charles spaniel - obviously named after the monarch, his Christian name meaning 'man, husband' while the term 'spaniel' comes from its assocation with Spain, a country thought to speak of itself as 'the land of the rabbits'.

Labrador - named after the Canadian province, itself from the Portuguese explorer Jaoa Fernandes Lavrador, whose family name was Fernandes, the term lavrador meaning 'farmer' or 'plougher'.

Maltese - clearly named from the island of Malta, itself possibly from the Greek name for the place Melita 'honey-sweet' for the islands native bees produced a unique honey.

Mastiff - from the Old French mastin 'great cur', itself from Latin mansuetus 'tae, gentle' and probably showing this was bred to be a house dog.

Mongrel - from the Old English gemong 'mingling' and ultimately Proto-Indo-European mag 'to knead, fashion, fit'. Hence the original idea of a mongrel was to interbreed other creatures to produce a new breed, exactly the opposite of the negative ideas of the modern era.

Otterhound - well no need to explain anything but the origin of 'otter', this began as Proto-Indo-European udros 'water creature'.

Pekinese - named after the city, now known as Beijing, and itself simply meaning 'north capital'.

Pointer - from its posture when used in hunting.

Pomeranian - named after the former province of Prussia, inhabited by a Slavic tribe who were known in Polish as po morze 'by the sea'.

Pug - named for its pug nose appearance, the word was earlier seen in a negative light and is derived from 'puck' 'devil, evil spirit, sprite'.

Rottweiler - named after the town of Rottweil in Germany, itself has the suffix for 'village' and the first element likely a personal name.

Saluki - two Sumerian words combine here to mean 'pluge earth', although what that ever denotes is a complete mystery.

Schnauzer - the literal translation is 'snout' but colloquially used to mean 'moustache'.

Sealyham - bred at and named after Sealyham House in Permbokeshire, this place name comes from the River Sealy, a name of unknown origin.

Sheepdog - no need for any comment here at all.

Skye terrier - takes its name from the Scottish island of Skye, this thought to be an early Celtic word skitis meaning 'winged', a resaonable description of the peninsulas radiating from the mountainous centre.

Staffordshire - taken from the name of the county and ultimately the county town, I looked at this a couple of years ago with looking at English Place Names and my books.

St Bernard - named after two hospices offering aid to travellers in the Alps, they coming from the name of the Great St Bernard Pass and Little St Bernard Pass, itself named from a saint whose name means 'bold as a bear'.

Terrier - comes from the Old French chien terrier 'earth dog', derived from the Latin terra 'earth' and ultimately from the Proto-Indo-European ters 'to dry'.

Whippet - a diminutive of 'whip' as in 'to move quickly'. The term 'whip' comes from Proto-Indo-European weip meaning 'to turn, vacillate'.

I wonder if any of these derivations will give any dog owners ideas as to potential names for their pet? Oddly the subject of names for a dog came up in a recent episode of my favourite podcast, episode number 175 of No Such Thing as a Fish, entitled No Such Thing As A Rice Krispie With Feelings. Enjoy!