Top 10 origins of animal names, I’m losing my Latin

One could imagine that the names of animals were chosen arbitrarily and that one day a guy stood up and said: “Hey, that sounds good ‘dog’, we should call them that, those big balls of fur”, But no. Not everything is always so simple, and animal names often have slightly more elaborate origins. So much the better, that way we can continue to learn stuff.

1. Weasel

Before, we called the weasel “mustele”, but as it was a carnivorous animal that was not very friendly with other animals, we wanted to give it a nice name in the hope of making it friendlier. This is how the animal became “weasel”, a mixture of “beautiful” and the suffix “-ette”. A pretty little beast, what. The same process took place in German where the weasel became schöntierlein (“beautiful little beast”) and in Italian where we chose donnola (” little woman “). In the end, it didn’t change her character, but it’s true that it makes her more charming in our eyes.

2. The partridge

So there you will find it twisted, but know that the name partridge derives from the Greek perdesthai which simply means “fart”. Yes, you read that right. In fact, our ancestors found the rustle of the wings of a partridge taking flight to be reminiscent of the dull sound of flatulence. They had imaginations of our ancestors. At the same time the guys didn’t have Netflix, they had to keep busy.

3. The canary

Well imagine that it takes its name from the Canary Islands (and not the other way around). Why ? Quite simply because that’s where we found a lot of canaries. But the story is a bit (or a feather) more complex: in the Canary Islands, there are a lot of “Canary Islands”, pretty passerines, and it is their domesticated form that we ended up calling “Canaries”. . That’s it, now you know everything and you can bring out this fun fact at your leisure when you find yourself in front of a person who has nothing interesting to say.

4. The fox

At the base, the fox was called “goupil”, but in the Middle Ages was published the Renart’s novel, a set of stories whose central character, a goupil, was called Renart. The proper name “Renart” ended up being used as a common name to designate the animal. So we no longer said “a goupil” but “a renart”. Then, over time, the “t” turned into a “d”, and we got the name “fox”. On the other hand, it does not tell us how foxes manage to be the cutest beings in the animal kingdom.

Top 10 origins of animal names, i'm losing my latin
Picture credits: Shiretoko Shari Tourist Association

5. Turkey

When the conquistadors returned from the Americas (which they called “the Indies” at the time), they brought back with them kinds of large hens which they called “hens of India”. Over time, only the “d’Inde” remained and naturally transformed into “turkey”. If the Europeans had been good at geography, maybe today we would eat “damerique” at Christmas, but we have to admit that it doesn’t sound so good.

6. Wild Boar

So here, maybe you’re going to find it hard to believe me and maybe you’ll even think that I lost the party, but I’m telling you with the utmost seriousness: “boar” comes from the same root than “singular”. Formerly, the wild boar was designated by the Latin name of singularis porcus, or “the solitary pig” because the males live alone in the forest. One thing leading to another, the beast was called “sengler”, “senglier”, then “wild boar”. I swear to you that it is the strictest truth.

7. The dog

The dog has both a Greek root and a Latin root, and both offer a rather pretty explanation for its name. On the Greek side, “dog” comes from kuon, which would itself come from the root “keu” which means “to shine”, in relation to the fact that the eyes of dogs shine in the dark. Why not. On the Latin side, the famous canis that we learn at school could derive from canor, which refers to singing, related to the fact that dogs bark. I’ll let you choose the explanation that suits you the most and I’ll move on.

8. The Rooster

If we called him gallus in Latin, the name “rooster” also bore the name of cuckold in lower Latin around the 6th century. And this name would simply come from the onomatopoeia which relates to the cry of the rooster, that good old “cocorico” (or “Cock-a-doodle-do” if you are rather English-speaking). In short, according to some linguists, it is the cock’s cry that gave it its name. Luckily he doesn’t shout “CHIEEEEN” otherwise we would have been really pissed off.

9. The Shark

It is subject to debate, but one of the most probable explanations about the shark would be that it comes from the word “dog” pronounced as in the Picardy and Norman patois, namely “quin” or “quien”. Apparently, the shark was thought to be reminiscent of a kind of dogfish with its sharp teeth and hyper-developed sense of smell. But, oddly, no one ever asks: “Hey, you, are you team cats, team dogs or team sharks? » Weird weird.

10. Lamb

There, the explanation is not recognized at all by linguists, but it has the merit of being quite cute so I’ll give it to you. “Lamb” comes from the Latin agnoscere (recognize) because lambs instinctively recognize their mother in a flock. So cute. Well, in truth, the root would rather come from Indo-European and would have no known meaning, but that’s a much more disappointing explanation.

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