Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Pigging Out

I know that the focal point of traditional Thanksgiving dinners is the turkey, but I’m going to go off on a pig tangent in this posting.

Many words that have nothing directly to do with pigs ended up using roots related to the pig. Sometimes this was because of a close or vague physical resemblance, sometimes because of a porcine color, sometimes because of a sound. Let’s examine some words that harbor hogs.

  • Albacore: an ocean fish. The Portugese bacoro meant a young pig.
  • Bandicoot: a large Indian rat the size of a cat. It is a corruption of a native word that meant pig-rat. It’s also the name of an Australian marsupial.
  • Hyena: a carnivorous quadruped. For whatever reason, the word developed from a Greek word meaning pig.
  • Molebat: obsolete word for an ocean sunfish, the Mola Mola. The name may have come from Pliny’s observation that this fish grunted like a pig.
  • Porcelain: translucent ceramic material used to make fine china. It was named after a word for a univalve mollusk (<young sow), probably because of the similarity in color.
  • Porcupine: a rodent equipped with defensive quills. The porc- came from the Latin word for pig, and the -pine from the Latin word for a thorn or spike.
  • Porpoise: a small delphinoid whale with a blunt snout. The word came into Anglo-Norman from a Latin word meaning pig-fish.

Now available from McFarland & Co.: Word Parts Dictionary, 2nd edition

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