Just finished reading The Year of the Puppy: How Dogs Become Themselves. Last week, I shared what I learned about altricial species (whose young need a lot of care) and precocial species (whose young are nearly self-sufficient). Near the end of the book, canine researcher Alexandra Horowitz expounds on dogs’ ears, which are nearly as expressive as their tails. The outer ear, the part that shows in both dogs and humans, is the pinna, which means “feather” or “wing” in Latin. (The ear is also called the auricle, from auris in Latin, meaning “ear.”) Pinna fits dogs, whose ears tend to be pointy, better than humans. Horowitz even uses the Latin plural, pinnae.
Pinna also gives us pinnacle; imagine the feather-like shape of a spire, narrowing at the top. Also lots of scientific words describing a feather or wing shape: pinnal, pinnate, pinnated, pinnation. Best of all is pinniped (which has appeared in the New York Times Spelling Bee). You can see the combination of wings and feet in the word. Pinnipeds have wing-like, or webbed feet; think seals and walruses.
When Horowitz refers to dogs and their wild relatives, such as coyotes and wolves, she uses the Latinate canid, from canis, a Roman dog. Most people recognize the more common canine and the eponymous teeth as Latin derivatives. The Greeks and Romans had dogs as pets and as hunting assistants and even memorialized them in stone and bronze.
A famous Pompeian mosaic shows a chained, mean-looking dog with the inscription “Cave canem,” which means “Beware of the dog.” The verb cave (pronounced cah-way) is an imperative, or command. We see the same verb in our word caveat, a warning or caution, and in the expression ”caveat emptor,” or, “let the buyer beware.”
This admonition is, in a way, Ms. Horowitz’s theme. A new puppy will eventually adapt to your household, if you help her, but you have to accept your new dog’s idiosyncrasies as well. She may not be the sweet, perfect dog of your dreams, but her own rambunctious individual self.
Horowitz and her family named their puppy Quiddity, another Latin derivative. Quiddity is the essence, or “thing-ness” of a thing. It comes from the pronoun quid, which means “what” or “something.” Quid, with her own special “quid-ness,” joined not only the family’s humans, but also two other dogs.
Horowitz writes, “Somehow it has taken [a year] for us to realize that we didn’t get just ‘another dog.’ While there are plenty of resemblances between Quid, Finn, and Upton—they are all quadrupedal sniffers with kind faces, long tails, and a shared genetic history—we were really adding an entirely different person to the family. One who is not only a different age . . . but also a different personality, with a different set of skills, drives, concerns, sensitivities. And now, our family has one bearded lady.”
Caveat emptor. Adopt a dog if you like and if you can, but be prepared for its unique canine quiddity, which is bound to change your household and your life.