Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Fleas, flukes and cuckoos

At the TLS, Christopher Perrin on the long history of the New Naturalists publishing project:
Afew volumes break the mould in other ways. Pedigree Words from Nature is an etymological work – looking at the development of natural history words in the English language from their origins to present usage. A surprising number of everyday words can be traced back to some link with the natural world – less surprisingly when one considers how much closer to the soil our ancestors lived. We are familiar with the fact that many of our places are derived from animals or plants, Brockenhurst or Okeover, for example. But this book looks more at the origins of the names of the animals and plants themselves. Many of these date back many centuries and often have close equivalents in several European languages. This may be true even when the name is based on a complete fallacy. The presence of nightjars hawking for insects at dusk near to animal pens led the Greeks to think that the birds used their large mouths to drink milk from the stock – hence the name “goatsucker” which was used in several European languages and even in the bird’s scientific name Caprimulgus. The most extraordinary volume must be number eighty-three, The New Naturalists, in which Peter Marren traces the history of the books themselves.

No comments:

Post a Comment