Tag Archives: ducks

English Language: Bizarrely Precise Animal Vocabulary

As hinted at in the Amazing Mules post, due to some historical quirks, the English language has a truly ridiculous amount of incredibly specific words relating to animals. This goes light years beyond preschool “the Cow Goes Moo” stuff that everybody knows. In fact, most of this is so insanely, ludicrously exacting that you’re unlikely to ever use it or even know it, unless you take up a hobby related to the animal in question, in which case it falls under specialized jargon. Why learn it at all then? Because these words can reveal an awful lot about the history and society that produced them, and the people who need this vocabulary today. You’re not going to come up with and agree on an intricate vocabulary relating to, say, inducing a bird of prey to hork up a hairball made of its un-digestible prey remains – called casting, unless it’s really important. Rest assured, what you see here is just the very tip of the English animal terms iceberg.

Here’s your obvious LANGUAGE WARNING for the post: due to use as insults, some of these words have become “bad words” in modern English. I can’t censor anything, since the whole point is to learn the vocabulary.

 

Keep an Eye Out! It’s Historical Background!

There are a few processes at work here, as to why English has so many animal vocabulary words. Let’s look at four of them:

  1. Modern English is a constantly changing mishmash of several languages. At the time in which these animals were so important, the Normans were in power in England, and a lot of the courtly animal-terms were adopted from their language. This is especially obvious in the case of meat vs the animal it comes from. This is why it’s a quarter pound ground beef (beuf) burger, and not a quarter pound ground COW FLESH burger. As a contrasting example that proves the rule, this didn’t happen in the related language German, and that’s why in that language, pork is literally SWINE FLESH.
  2. (Highly ritualized) hunting was a foundation of medieval European society, and was a means of enforcing class dynamics. Proper use of the jargon separated the nobles from everyone else, and maintained the shape of society. There are several weird holdovers of this dynamic today, that we notice from the United States of America, where we jumped the tracks before a few key social changes in Britain, proper. There’s probably a whole post on this in the future, but, suffice to say in Britain hunting and hunting opposition is very much tied into class conflict, where here it isn’t so much. Robin Hood was outlawed for killing the King’s deer, but here everybody was eating venison to survive, and even today we just try to make a buck. Look for animals people probably hunted.
  3. Actual jargon. In the same way that we work with computers as a basic matter of keeping our society running, and therefore we have a bunch of highly technical terms for computers, what computers do, and parts of a computer, when everything ran on literal horsepower, there was a whole host of specialized horse terms. Look for animals people needed and lived closely with in their daily lives, or to do their jobs.
  4. The wanna-be brigade. For some of these animals, when they were beginning to be bred selectively in the 18th and 19th Centuries, people who participated in this dawning animal fancy wanted to make their hobby more respectable and legitimate by coming up with specialized vocabulary, to match the historical ones. Look for animals that were part of the selective breeding boom in the last 300 years, like cats.

 

Let’s Learn Some Really Precise Animal Terms in English:

Ankole Watusi cattle lying around in a field.

Ankole Watusi cattle in a field. My personal favorite breed of cattle. They’re a status symbol, a medium of exchange, and basically the cattle equivalent of a purse dog. Cows aren’t always about meat and milk.

The Cow Goes Moo!

The sound they make – low

Cows, as a species – cattle

A group of cattle – herd

Cattle-like – bovine

Baby – calf

Female, before first birth – heifer

Female, after giving birth – cow

Male, castrated – ox, steer

Male, adult and intact – bull

Female, born as part of a set of fraternal twins with a male calf, exposed to enough testosterone in the womb that she acts like a bull – freemartin (see what I mean about ridiculously specific?)

 

 

The Horse Goes Neigh!

The sound they make – neigh, whinny, snort, scream, nicker

Horses, as a species – horses

A group of horses – herd

A family group of feral horses – band

An all-male group of mostly unrelated feral horses – bachelor herd

Horse-like – equine

Baby – foal

Female, before puberty – filly

Female, after puberty – mare

Male, before puberty – colt

Male, castrated – geldling

Male, adult and intact – stallion, horse

Male, adult, and with an un-descended testicle – ridgling

 

The Ass / Donkey Goes Hee-Haw!

The sound they make – bray

Donkeys, as a species – donkeys, asses

Doney-like – asinine

A group of donkeys – herd

Baby – foal

Female, intact – jenny, jennet

Male, castrated – gelding

Male, adult and intact – jack

 

A small flock of sheep on a rainy day.

Sheep are also amazing. Shear them to get wool. The grease from the wool is highly prized lanolin, which is sold in high-end skin creams.

The Sheep Goes Baa!

The sound they make – baa

Sheep, as a species – sheep

Sheep-like – ovine

A group of sheep – herd

Baby – lamb

Female, intact – ewe

Male, castrated – wether (a wether won’t get your ewes preggers, or go aggro on the other sheep, and he’ll follow the herd wherever they go. They used to put bells on them, so that if you heard the belled wether, you’d know where the rest of the sheep were. That’s why the word for an individual that shows the direction that the rest are going, or where they are is BELLWETHER.)

Male, adult and intact – ram

 

The Whale Goes (cetacean vocal range extends from infrasound to ultrasound – good luck with figuring that out).

A group of whales – pod

Baby – calf

Female – cow

Male – bull

 

The Cat Goes Meow!

The sound they make – meow, hiss, caterwaul

Cats, as a species – cats

Cat-like – feline

A group of cats – clowder

Baby – kitten

Female, intact – queen

Male, castrated – gib

Male, adult and intact – tom

 

birds, flowers, and puppies silk scroll.

You’d be hard-pressed to find a human culture that doesn’t have dogs. The style of this Korean silk painting by Yi Am (Joseon Dynasty, first half of the 1500s) just makes them look even softer and cuter. PUPPIES!!

The Dog Goes Bark!

The sound they make – bark, howl, growl

The howling of a pack of hunting hounds on the trail of prey – bay

Dogs, as a species – dogs

Dog-like – canine

A group of dogs – pack

Baby – puppy

Female – bitch

Male – dog

 

The Falcon Goes Skreeee!

(Except they don’t, generally. The famous piercing scream used as a stock sound effect for birds of prey is actually very specific only to the Red Tailed Hawk, which isn’t even a falcon. Birds you’ve heard this used for, like Bald Eagles, actually make very different sounds – in their case, the Bald Eagle goes tseep eep-eeep eep eep … twitter-itter-itter-itter … twitter-itter … tseep eep.)

Falcons, as a group – falcons

Baby – eyas

Female – falcon

Male – tiercel (Male birds of prey are usually noticeably petite compared to the brawnier females, on average about 1/3 smaller. As such, the males are quicker, but the females generally take larger prey, and were the more favored birds to hunt with.)

 

 

The Chicken Goes Cluck!

The sound they make – cluck, cheep, crow

Chickens, as a species – chickens

A group of chickens – flock

Baby – chick, chicken

Female, adult – hen

Male, castrated – capon (Yes, this is a thing. Fun fact about puberty: the signal to stop the growth spurt, develop secondary sex characteristics, and put on muscle in male animals is sent by the testes. Some castrated male animals go through a growth spurt that never slams to a halt like this, since the signal never comes, and get bigger and fatter than they would have, until the rest of their hormonal system just kind of gives up on puberty and settles down. As the biggest, fattest, and most tender of chickenkind, as well as the fact that some surgery is required to make them, capons are pretty expensive. Check the specialty frozen meats in the store to see what I mean.)

Male, adult and intact – rooster, cock

 

ducks as far as the eye can see.

Although they’re not so common here, and therefore quite expensive, ducks are a hugely important livestock and eggs animal in other parts of the world.

The Duck Goes Quack!

The sound they make – quack

Ducks, as a species – ducks

A group of ducks – flock

Baby – duckling

Female – duck

Male – drake

 

The Goose Goes Honk!

The sound they make – honk, cackle

A group of geese – flock

Baby – gosling

Female – goose

Male – gander

 

The Swan Goes (…)

The sound they make – hiss, (there’s a reason they’re called Mute Swans)

A group of swans – flock

Baby – cygnet

Female – pen

Male – cob

 

What Does the Fox Say?

What does the fox say? – yip, yelp

Foxes, as a species – foxes

Fox-like – vulpine

Baby – kit

Female – vixen

Male – tom

 

Apicius

What do you do if a bunch of Ancient Romans fall through a hole in time, and end up in your neighborhood? Invite them to dinner, of course! It’s important to be prepared to host time travelers.

If you’re planning a banquet at an insane house party for Ancient Romans, Apicius has you covered – extant books include various main courses, veggie dishes, fish, and fowl, and food preservation. Fortunately, the library has an English translation of this Probably-Fifth-Century cookbook.

Cover of Apicius: cookery and dining in Imperial Rome.

Get your English translation right here. You’re welcome!

Although there are free downloads of an old translation – good enough in a culinary emergency – the newer translation is definitely better. Or, if you’re feeling really adventurous, there’s the original Latin. Here’s some recipes I’ve adapted from the Latin and the old translation, to give you an idea of the range of dishes in the book. Let’s start with a fairly familiar one:

 

Leeks n’ Beans

A closeup of a giant pile of green beans.

Fresh. Green. Beans.

Aliter porros: in aqua elixiati erunt, fabae nondum conditae plurimum admisce conditurae, in que eos manducaturus es.

Other leeks: in water that cooked the leeks, boil green beans that haven’t been cooked. Mix leeks and beans, and serve.

That’s not too hard. Get leeks and green beans. Cut the bottoms and the dark green parts off the leeks, chop up and swish around in a bowl of water to get any grit out of the leeks. Boil the leek chunks in water, and reserve the water, keeping the leeks aside in a serving bowl. String the beans, if necessary, and boil the beans in the water you just took the leeks out of. When the beans are tender, fish them out, and toss them with the leeks in the serving bowl.

A nice hot salad. So far so good!

 

Sardine Loaf

A pile of sardines.

Sardines.

Patine de apua fricta: apuam lavas, ova confringes et cum apua commisces. Adicies liquamen, vinum, oleum, facies ut ferveat, et cum ferbuerit, mittes apuam. Cum duxerit, subtiliter versas. Facies ut coloret, oenogarum simplex perfundes piper asparges et inferes.

Whipped sardine loaf: clean sardines, mix eggs with sardines. Add liquamen [a Roman fermented fish sauce], wine, oil, and stock, and let it heat [in the mold, presumably]. With care, turn over [the mold so the loaf is free]. To help it color, let it cook long enough to brown. Drizzle with oenogarum [a different fish sauce with wine in it], sprinkle with pepper and serve.

Okaaaaaaay. It’s still doable, but I’m going to have to get… creative… and you’d better like your fish extra jiggly, and your eggs extra fishy.

Materials: a mixing bowl, a spoon, a loaf tin or muffin tin (!!), or something else that is bakeable for a mold, a serving plate to turn it out on, oven mitts. OR a coffee mug and a microwave (!!!), if you can’t use the stove and oven.

Ingredients: a can of sardines, raw eggs, olive oil, fish or veggie stock, white wine (optional!), fish sauce (you can get it in the international section of the supermarket, or in East Asian or Southeast Asian food stores – if you can’t get fish sauce, Worcestershire sauce can be substituted.)

Procedure: open the can of sardines into a mixing bowl, and mash them. Add eggs, a splash of oil, stock, maybe some white wine, and a dash of fish sauce or Worcestershire sauce to taste (yeaaahh…), and stir thoroughly until everything is a grayish yellow slurry. Oil the tin you’re planning on using as a mould, and pour the egg-and-fish mixture in, leaving room for it to rise. [OR: pour the slurry into a microwave-safe bowl or mug and microwave on high for 40 seconds or so at a time, watching carefully to see that it doesn’t rise too high. Puncture with a fork if it tries to escape the mug. Nuke it until it’s set up.] Preheat oven to 375 F, and bake until the mold has set up. Turn out the mold onto the plate to serve. Drizzle with more fish sauce and sprinkle with pepper and serve.

 

Stewed Ostrich

A photo of a male ostrich, with nice pink legs visible.

To be fair, the drumsticks on an ostrich are enormous. Which is really half the problem, actually.

In struthione elixo: piper, mentam, cuminum assum, apii semen, dactylos vel caryotas, mel, acetum, passum, liquamen et oleum modice et in caccabo facies ut bulliat. Amulo obligas, et sic partes struthionis in lance perfundis, et desuper piper aspargis si autem in condituram coquere volueris, alicam addis.

A broth for ostrich: pepper, mint, cumin, leeks, celery seed, dates, honey, vinegar, raisin wine, broth, and a little oil. Boil in a kettle with a (plucked, cleaned) ostrich, thicken (to use as sauce). Cut ostrich meat into convenient pieces, and serve in sauce with a sprinkle of pepper. If you want to season it further, add garlic.

Honestly, your real problems here are: 1. Finding a whole ostrich and 2. Finding a pot big enough to BOIL AN ENTIRE OSTRICH IN. If you can do that, though, you’re golden. You might need some help managing a whole ostrich carcass, though, they’re pretty heavy. If you can do all that, it’s an otherwise straightforward recipe.

And, finally, one last recipe.

 

Gardener’s Pig

Hold onto your butts…

Porcellum hortolanum: porcellus hortolanus exossatur per gulam in modum utris. Mittitur in eo pullus isiciatus particulatim concisus, turdi, ficedulae, isicia de pulpa sua, Lucanicae, dactyli exossati, 66fabriles bulbi, cocleae exemptae, malvae, betae, porri, apium, cauliculi elixi, coriandrum, piper integrum, nuclei, ova XV superinfunduntur, liquamen piperatum, ova mittuntur trita. Et consuitur et praeduratur. in furno assatur. deinde a dorso scinditur, et iure hoc perfunditur. Piper teritur, ruta, liquamen, passum, mel, oleum modicum. Cum bullierit, amulum mittitur.

Debone a whole pig through the throat. Stuff with: minced chicken meat croquettes, roasted thrushes, roasted figpeckers, pork sausages, pitted dates, glazed onions, cooked snails taken out of the shell, mallows, leeks, beets, celery, sprouts, coriander, peppercorns, nuts, eggs and broth diluted with eggs. Sew shut the pig, roast, and split the back, pouring over a sauce of crushed pepper, rue, broth, raisin wine, honey, and oil, thickened with roux.

And that’s not even getting into the stuffed roast dormice. Enjoy!

Duck Duck Goose

The ducks and geese have paired up for the spring, and you know that this means! Goose attacks are going to be pretty likely. Don’t get Tyrannosaurus rek’d by a goose. They can be very aggressive, especially when nesting.

goslings

If you can see these, the parents aren’t far behind…

An adult goose can weigh 15 lbs, so be careful.

As for the ducks, here’s a fun experiment to try. Go look at some mallard ducks. You can find them in parks with ponds, or other places near water. Usually, the males have green heads. Compare the number of males (drakes) to the females (ducks). Notice anything unusual? I’ll hide what you’ll probably find out in this bracket, in white text. Click and drag between the brackets to reveal the spoilers. [ There will probably be more drakes than ducks, by a pretty large margin. ] Weird, huh. Why do you think that is? Click and drag for the answer.

[ Females sit on the nest and are more vulnerable to predators, which probably leads to to the sex imbalance. Birds have a similar sex determination system to us mammals, so you can assume that there’s an even number of male and female ducklings hatched. ]

And that’s not all the duck weirdness going on. If you saw the ducks at just the right time, in mid-summer, you might not have noticed any drakes at all. Ducks moult completely, losing all their feathers, and, while they grow back in, they’re flightless, and very shy. Right after this, and before growing in their breeding plumage for the fall, the drakes’ feathers come in looking just like a duck. This brief, non-breeding plumage is called eclipse plumage. The only way to tell while the males are in eclipse is that male mallard ducks’ bills are yellowy or olive, not orange-y black.

drake/duck pair

This is a drake/duck pair of ducks. The drake is the one with the green head.

drake in eclipse

This is actually a drake mallard, disguised as a ladytypes duck, which are supposed to be camouflaged against predators anyway.

If you want to take your bird-observing to the next level, check out the Bird Guide from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Or, check out a handy, portable, and comprehensive identification key from the library. Ducks are really odd, actually. If you want to do more than dabble in a different sort of dabblers, read this book for a deep dive into the wood ducks, the most fabulous of all ducks. Ducks and geese hatch ready to follow the parents around, and start life out with a leap from the nest. Watch hooded merganser ducklings take the plunge.

Happy duck-watching!