Animalia: Some Words That Derive from Animal Names

Photo by Hans-Jurgen Mager on Unsplash

The Canary Islands, one would imagine, were overrun with canaries. But, no, they were overrun with wild dogs, or canes in Latin. The birds were named for the islands.

Capricious comes from the Italian word for “goat”: capro. A Roman goat was a caper. Goats are often playful and somewhat unpredictable. They can be capricious. In certain moods, they can cut capers, another derivative.

A burrito is literally a little donkey, from burricus, a small horse in Latin. I suppose because of its shape.

Vaccine comes from the Latin word for “cow,” vacca, because the vaccine for smallpox came from the pus of cowpox lesions.

The Latin word avis, which means “bird,” gave us aviator, aviation, and aviatrix, and other flying words.

A Greek bear was an arktos. The English derivative arctic refers not to the polar bear but to the Great Bear constellation, called Ursa Major in Latin, and long referred to the northern sky before it applied to the terrestrial north.

Ursa gives us ursine, meaning “bear-like,” like the creature in the photo above. A person might also be ursine — big, hairy, and lumbering. Can you think of a good example?

Many other –ine words derive from Roman animals: ovine, porcine, cervine, equine, canine, feline, leonine, asinine, aquiline, lupine, and corvine, for example. Guess what animals these words refer to, and see below* for the answers.  

Finally, animal itself derives from the Latin anima, the word for breath, life, or spirit. Animals are living beings. To animate is to bring something to life. Like Mickey Mouse. Or Goofy.

*In order, sheeplike, piglike, deerlike, horse-like, doglike, catlike, lion-like, ass-like, eagle-like, wolflike, and crow-like. 

How-dja do?

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Fall Cookies

The story of Proserpina, her mother Ceres, and the god Pluto is my favorite myth. Many of you know it. Proserpina (Persephone in Greek), while frolicking in the fields with other maidens, was snatched away to Hades (or by Hades, in Greek) by the god Pluto. Ceres (Demeter in Greek), goddess of agriculture, searched for her daughter desperately, walking off the job and leaving the crops to languish. Eventually, Jupiter brokered a deal: Proserpina would spend half the year with her mom, and half with her “husband” Pluto in the underworld. Ceres, to this day, happily attends to her divine duties from the spring to the fall, and, grieving her daughter’s absence, languishes in the fall and winter, causing the grass to wither and the leaves to fall. Thus we have the seasons of the year.

In Northeast Ohio, Proserpina rushed off in a hurry this year. We went from temperatures in the eighties to rainy days in the fifties and sixties right around the equinox on September 22 or so. Pluto wasted no time.

Even a week ago, I would not have thought of baking these pumpkin cookies, but all of a sudden they seem like just the right thing. My writing group met at my house last evening, huddling on my cold, wet porch, and I served these along with some hot cider and tea.

They are not literally pumpkin cookies; they are sugar cookies shaped and frosted like pumpkins. Aside from being a fall specialty, the recipe is sentimental. I inherited it from my mother-in-law, who received it from her mother. It is the only recipe I’m not allowed to share. I don’t know what would happen to me if I slipped and passed it along, but it would be bad. Maybe Pluto would carry me off to his gloomy domain. Don’t even ask me.

(I know, it’s Tuesday, and food posts are supposed to appear on Mondays. But on Monday I was baking the cookies.)

Are you ready for cold-weather comfort food? What favorite fall dishes or recipes are you looking forward to?

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Horses, Dogs, and People

I have in mind a particular genre of non-fiction. I don’t know if it’s already a category, or if I’m making it up. The Ride of Her Life: The True Story of a Woman, Her Horse, and Their Last-Chance Journey across America, the book by Elizabeth Letts I just finished reading, is an example.

I’m thinking of recent popular books about particular people and events which the author uses to illuminate some part of American history. The focus starts small, on a not necessarily famous person, animal, or event, and then broadens its scope to American culture at large.

Susan Orlean’s Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend (2011) tells you everything you didn’t know about the famous canine movie and TV star, actually played by more than one dog over the decades, like Lassie. But Orlean goes further: The Alaska Dispatch called the book “an excellent piece of cultural history.” You learn about Hollywood and movie stardom, about the many jobs dogs can do, and about the status of pets in American households, among other things.

In The Library Book, written seven years later, Orlean makes the 1968 fire at the Los Angeles Central Library her jumping-off point to chronicle the history of public libraries. Eccentric and vivid characters people the book. Orlean, by the way, grew up in Shaker Heights, where she developed her profound affection for libraries.

Seabiscuit (2001) by Laura Hillenbrand shows how a ramshackle hoopty of a horse became the most famous celebrity in America during the 1930s. Seabiscuit didn’t look like a sleek and elegant thoroughbred, but he was fast and plucky. His owners and trainers were eccentric and fascinating as well. Fame, American media, and hucksterism are Hillenbrand’s larger subjects.

A horse again takes (almost) center stage in Letts’s new book. Annie Wilkins, sixty-three years old in 1954, abandoned her farm and her tax debt, and set out to ride her horse Tarzan across the United States. She aspired to fulfill her mother’s dream of seeing the Pacific Ocean before dying. Her dog Depeche Toi (French for “hurry up”—is that a great name for a dog, or what?) and, a little later, a second horse, named Rex, kept her company. Wilkins became a celebrity, greeted in the small towns she passed through by enterprising newspaper reporters and Chamber of Commerce grandees. Letts recounts the development of highways, the decline of small towns and small farms, and the birth of TV. (Annie eventually appeared on Art Linkletter’s show.)

I enjoyed all these books. I like dogs, horses, and libraries, so keep that in mind if you’re considering following my recommendation.

Is this a genre? Have you read these or other examples? I’d love to know.

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Days, Diets, and Divinities

Thursday of this week marks the autumnal equinox. Autumnus in Latin word names the fall season we’re about to enter. Equinox combines two Latin words: the adjective aequus, which means “equal,” and the noun nox, which means “night.” As you know, this day is one of two during the year when the day, that is, sunrise to sunset, is of the same duration as the night, that is, sunset to sunrise. The night is equal to the day. From this Thursday on, the days will grow shorter until the winter solstice, December 21, when the days gradually begin to become longer.

The earth’s tilt on its axis explains this phenomenon. No one will know if you have to review how that works here.

A few weeks ago, Sarah suggested we examine the word day and related words, and this week seemed like a good time, what with equinoxes and nights and days and all.

Our word day and the Latin dies are not related. I know, right? Hard to believe, isn’t it? Day comes from an Old English root, whereas dies is thought to derive from the Indo-European *dyeu, meaning “to shine.”

Even more interesting are all the words springing from dies and its Indo-European root. I remember being surprised and impressed when a professor pointed out to us students the similarities among deus (god), Zeus, divine, deity, adieu, diva, and many others. Primitive people have the good sense to honor the sun, the thing that shines, because we depend on it for life. So, all those divine words have etymological connections to dies, the Latin word for “day.” In a more mundane sense, you encounter the Latin dies in phrases like “per diem”(by the day) and in Horace’s admonition “Carpe diem” (Seize the day). (That case ending “m” makes the word an object.)

Diet, the regimen that limits your daily calories, comes from Greek diaita, meaning “a way of life,” not the Latin dies. But linguists do link diet, as in the Diet of Worms in 1521, the big meeting which condemned Martin Luther, to both diaita and dies. Very confusing. Here’s a source, so you can study up yourself. Be prepared for a quiz.

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Instant Terror

Feeling like some savory fall recipes already, even though the temps here today are mid-70s. The curry recipe below sounds satisfying, but I neglected to start it six hours ago; we had no cauliflower on hand this morning. Now, after a trip to the store, the ingredients await, but time is short, so I’ve decided to prepare Slow Cooker Vegetarian Curry in the Instant Pot instead. I know, it’s the exact opposite device, but I’m nothing if not adventurous in the kitchen. I will dare to use the Instant Pot, but one obstacle stands in my way.

Roxie feeling safe.

My dog.

Little Roxie hates the Instant Pot. Flies in the house, moths, vacuums, thunder and lightning (as in, last night)—all these terrify her. The random signals of the Instant Pot send her under the couch, trembling. I feel guilty every time I try to cook Instant-ly.

Here’s my plan. I will thoroughly set up the mise en place, vegetables chopped and spices at the ready. This is not my usual habit. Ordinarily, I’m chopping the celery as the onions are already browning. But today, I hope to have everything ready in a bowl to dump into the dreaded Instant Pot. I’m tying Roxie outside before I turn on the machine and letting her back in when the beeping has subsided. Maybe she’ll never be the wiser.

I’ll let you know how it goes. Are your dogs or cats subject to irrational fears?

Maybe not so irrational, in this case. Maybe unbeknownst to me Roxie read the appliance guide’s dire warnings: don’t open the lid while the float valve is popped up, don’t lean over the steam release valve, and check for deformations in the sealing valve.

Failure to follow these instructions may cause food to discharge, which may lead to personal injury or property damage! No wonder a little dog hides behind the piano.

Slow Cooker Vegetarian Curry from allrecipes

1 head chopped cauliflower
1 ½ cups green peas (I’m adding after cooking so that they don’t get mushy)
3 chopped potatoes
1 cup water
1 ½ teaspoon ground cumin    1 teaspoon curry powder        
¾ teaspoon ground turmeric
½ teaspoon chili powder
Combine all ingredients in slow cooker. Cook on low or until vegetables are tender, 5-6 hours

I’m planning on 5 minutes or so in the Instant Pot and a slow release.             

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The Buzz on Vergil

(for Trevor Thoms)

I can’t close out our week of bees without sharing what is possibly my favorite poem, The Georgics, by the Roman poet Vergil. I know, this might strike you as a stodgy and obscure choice, but believe me when I tell you The Georgics is beautiful and uplifting (mostly) and delightful. Translator David Ferry asserts, “The poem is one of the great songs, maybe the greatest we have, of human accomplishment in the difficult circumstances of the way things are.” It’s about life. Amid the lyrical delight, in other words, it has something to say. “The Georgics,” Ferry says, “is the fundamental poem.”

I speak specifically about the last section of the work, Book 4, which concerns beekeeping. Vergil was born near Mantua, Italy, in 70 B.C.E., the son of a landowner, and probably grew up in the countryside. He knew about bees, and, more importantly, he loved them, as he loved nature itself. Here’s a sample:

When the golden sun has driven winter back down
Under the earth and opened up the sky
With the radiance of summer, then the bees
Fly everywhere through all the groves and glades,
Gathering from the beautiful flowers and lightly
Imbibing from the surface of the streams.
It’s thus that, motivated by some joy
I know not how to name, they go about
The caring for their offspring and their nests; . . .
And so when you look up and see the swarm,
Emancipated from the hive and floating
Up to the starry sky through the summer air, . . .
Take heed, for there they are, on the hunt for leafy
Shelter near sweet water.

The poet then instructs the reader/farmer to scatter fragrant, healing herbs to attract the bees to a shelter designed for them.

The bees will settle, of themselves, upon
The scented settling places you’ve prepared
And of themselves will hide themselves within
The inner recesses of their cradling home.

I have to restrain myself from quoting further.

I can’t remember when I first encountered The Georgics. I took a Vergil course at Kent State, but I remember only The Aeneid, Vergil’s massive epic about the founding of Rome, which I also read in a high-school Latin class. My fondness for The Georgics derives mostly from teaching sections of it at Cleveland State. One particular class seemed to be as moved and delighted by the bees as I was, hence the dedication above to Trevor, one of those students, who sadly passed away last year.

The “uplifting (mostly)” in the first paragraph above alludes to a horrific passage in Book 4 about creating a new swarm of bees if yours has died by ritualistically beating to death a young bullock; ancients believed that new life literally grew out of the old, and that a swarm of bees would arise from bull’s carcass. I can’t stand to read that section and can’t square it with the sweetness of the Vergil I love. But I had to warn you about it in case you pick up the poem. I recommend, as you can tell, David Ferry’s translation (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005). It features the Latin original on the left side of every page, so you can exercise your possibly atrophied Latin muscles by following along.

The Georgics is too little known and studied these days. Unfortunately, Cleveland State University has eliminated Latin classes as of this year, and had done away with advanced Latin courses a few years ago. CSU no longer gives students the chance to read one of the great works in its original language. John Dryden’s assessment is certainly a Western-centric exaggeration, but when he finished his own translation of The Georgics around 1697, he called it “the best poem by the best poet.” Pick up The Georgics of Vergil translated by David Ferry and decide for yourself.

Favorite poems? Let us know!

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Bee Lines

A beekeeper can also be called an apiarist. These two words demonstrate how the English language developed on different tracks.

Photo by Trollinho on Unsplash

Bee derives from the Germanic roots of English, related to Dutch bij and German Beie. The api- words derive from the Romans’ word for bees, apis, including apiary, apiologist, apitherapy, apiarian, apiarist, apimania, and other words.

Note that bee is a short, simple word, while the bee-related words that start with “a” tend to be longer. That’s the pattern. Good old Anglo-Saxon words are often short and sweet (like good, old, short, and sweet), while Latinate words tend to be sustained and elongated, not to say complicated and protracted. Compare dish and container, house and domicile, mouth and orifice, bug and insect, and you see the pattern. Our thesauri are filled with such synonyms partly because we have both old English words and fancy Latinate words that mean pretty much the same thing.

To simplify a complex history, Latin-derived words flooded English following the 1066 Norman Invasion of England. Native English folk were communicating just fine with their mostly Germanic words until those French people moved in and took control, bringing their Romance (i.e., Roman) language with them. This history partly explains why English has so many words.

Anyway, bee is an appropriately little word for a little creature. Ant (although shortened from its Old English root) is also tiny, in contrast to its Latin equivalent formica (pronounced for-mee-cah), which gave birth to many interesting words that most of us don’t know. Formication – pronounce it carefully! – denotes itchiness that feels like ants crawling on the skin. The adjective formicant describes someone crawling around like an ant. Formic acid, as in formaldehyde, was distilled from red ants by a German chemist in 1749.

Interestingly, formic acid is found in bee stings, bringing us full circle back to the apimaniacal blog topic of the week, i.e., bees.  

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A Honey of a Post

Did you know that honey bees have little baskets on their legs to collect pollen and nectar? Reading the novel Grey Bees, about a Ukrainian bee keeper, has piqued my interest in bees. I’ve been reading about how worker bees kick the drones out of the hive when they’ve mated with the queen, and about the little dance the bees do to tell their hive mates where the flowers are, and about those little baskets, which are called “corbiculae,” or little baskets, in Latin. There’s no end to fascinating info about bees.

Regarding our worries about colony collapse and the bee apocalypse, 60% of human foods, including plantains, squash, tomatoes, and peppers, do not depend on the honey bee. The honey bee was brought to the Americas by colonists, and our native plants have their own native pollinators. These native species, such as bumblebees, are the ones in trouble, because their foreign-born cousins are invasive. Honey bee numbers, according to the Washington Post, are at historic highs and are rising. “There are more honey bees on the planet today than at any time in history,” according to Scott Black, who directs the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.

We can stop worrying about honey bees and start worrying about all the others.  

Honey bees are like cows, a domesticated animal which produces a product — honey. I’ve used honey most recently in iced tea, which I experimented with making all summer. My favorite recipe comes from a website called Venison for Dinner, where a doughty homesteader named Kate demonstrates how to milk cows and goats, make cheese, and sew stuff, all while raising five children. She mixes two bags of Peach Passion Celestial Seasonings tea and one of black tea (like Lipton) in two liters (she’s Canadian) of water, with one-fourth cup of honey (I use less), a splash or two of lemon juice, and two pinches of salt. The last three ingredients make the tea more thirst-quenching than water, she maintains, because the non-tea ingredients replace nutrients and electrolytes that we lose in hot weather. You can use hot water and pop your pitcher into the refrigerator to chill. I use room-temperature water and let it sit out all night. The next day I enjoy a big glass with lots of ice.

Five pounds of honey. Someone went to Costco.

Today, I had hoped to cook something with honey to write about, but the day got away from me. You know how it is. I planned to prepare these simple Honey Roasted Carrots. We can all try it sometime soon. Report back if you make it.

8 medium carrots, peeled and trimmed to about the same size

3 tablespoons olive oil

¼ cup honey

Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place whole carrots in a baking dish. Drizzle with olive oil and mix until the carrots are covered. Drizzle with honey. Mix with salt and pepper until evenly coated. Bake about 30 minutes.

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Artists ever since Homer, and probably before, have created anti-war art. You may know Picasso’s painting Guernica, Jean Renoir’s great film Grand Illusion, novels such as All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque and Stephen Crane’s Red Badge of Courage. Even the supposedly macho Ernest Hemingway wrote A Farewell to Arms, set in World War I (emphasis on the “farewell”). His main character, Frederic Henry, serving as an ambulance driver during World War I (as did Hemingway), deserts after a chaotic and violent retreat. He is arrested, and, blamed for Italy’s defeat in battle, is about to be shot. The Italian officers, Frederic says, “(S)o far had shot every one they had questioned. The questioners had that beautiful detachment and devotion to stern justice of men dealing in death without being in any danger of it.” Frederic escapes and seeks out his true love, Elizabeth Barkley.

Hemingway and the other artists do not preach. They don’t need to. They place their characters in the midst of war and reveal the immoral destruction of lives, minds, values, and property. Andrey Kurkov, reputedly Ukraine’s greatest living novelist, is another of these artists.

Grey Bees, published in 2018, precedes Russia’s recent invasion of Ukraine, but it reveals the endless state of war that Ukraine (like other nations) has endured. In 2014, Russia annexed the Ukrainian peninsula Crimea. The novel’s main character lives in what’s called the “grey zone,” an area lying between the Ukrainian army and the pro-Russian separatists. Almost everyone has fled the grey zone in order to avoid constant shelling and random acts of violence. A beekeeper, Sergey Sergeyich, and his longtime frenemy, Pashka, remain in their grey-zone village alone.

Photo by Meggyn Pomerleau on Unsplash

The war has killed their neighbors, destroyed homes, and deprived the town of electricity. Sergey survives by selling his bees’ honey and bartering and salvaging in neighboring towns. Kurkov doesn’t dwell on atrocities, though they lurk in the background. Sergey’s lonely, hardscrabble life tells the story. 

At the same time, Kurkov gently satirizes village life. His mostly gentle story is often funny. As in all wars, bad things happen to good people, but nature occasionally serves as a tonic. One evening, Sergey hears an unfamiliar bird call. Kurkov writes, “The cry had awakened the beekeeper’s curiosity, reviving his mind; he tuned his ears to the colourful, sonorous silence of the world around him, the now silent flying-crying creature suddenly forgotten. Into this silence were woven the whisper of foliage, the breeze’s breath, the buzzing of bees—all the tiny sounds that constitute the peaceful silence of summer.” Kurkov’s lovely prose, translated from Russian by Boris Dralyuk, echoes the evening sounds that comfort Sergey.

Though there are no battles and only intermittent violence, this is a war novel. Russian-born and a native Russian speaker, Kurkov still lives in Ukraine. A recent New York Times article about him says, “Kurkov has dedicated himself to chronicling and contextualizing the war for foreign audiences, a task he has performed with prodigious zeal. Hardly a day goes by now without a new article, radio broadcast, television appearance or public lecture.”

I have about sixty pages of Grey Bees left to read and am portioning it out slowly to delay the end. Have you done that with a book you’re loving? What’s on your bedside table right now?

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A Not Terrible* Word

Terrazzo flooring is a composite mixing flecks of quartz, marble, glass, or other substances with a base such as cement, or, in recent times, a polymer. It’s like a mosaic, except the little pieces are scattered randomly and do not form a pattern. The tiles you’ve seen on the Hollywood Walk of Fame are terrazzo. Terrazzo is a common option for kitchen floors and walkways and frequently shows up on design shows these days.

Photo by Martin Kleppe on Unsplash

Terrazzo is originally an Italian word, derived from the Latin root terra, meaning “earth” or “land.” Friend of our youth E.T., the Extra-Terrestrial, was born outside of (extra) the earth.

Terrarium and terrain are two other common derivatives. Terrapin, however, is a fooler; this turtle’s name comes from Algonquin words for, you guessed it, “turtle.” Terraqueous is an oxymoronic combination of land and water, kind of like your child’s bath water after she’s played in the mud.

Linguistically speaking, the English equivalent of terrazzo is terrace, a balcony or porch, originally a platform built on a mound of earth (terra). When you build your new terrace, you could install terrazzo flooring and explain to all your guests the etymological connection.

*Not the same root. Terrible comes from terrere, to scare.

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