I have been thinking about animal names. And a plant name. There sure are some interesting sounds used for handles. Some of the best names come from the Native Americans. Chipmunk. Raccoon. Skunk. Quahog. Chaugset.
I learned about chaugsets from my father. Chaugset is a very local Cape Cod name. How local? You won’t find “chaugset” on google, that’s how local. Chaugsets are fish. Also known as Choggies or Cunners. The latin name is Tautogolabrus adspersus. As you will guess from the latin nomenclature, they’re a mini-tautog. Chaugsets are among the quickest and slyest baitstealers that can bedevil a young fisherman. As with many native american names, the pronunciation is not what the spelling would lead you to expect. You don’t say “chog-set”. “Choxie” is the correct pronunciation, according to my father. He learned this word, and the spelling, from his friends the Bournes, who have been Cape Codders since the seventeenth century. The early Bournes would have learned the name from their neighbors, the Wampanoags.
Here on Martha’s Vineyard, we have the beetlebung, elsewhere known as a tupelo, pepperidge, or black gum tree. The latin name is Nyssa sylvatica. Beetlebung wood has deeply interlocked fibers, and is as hard or harder to split than rive-resistant elm. That characteristic makes the wood particularly suitable for uses that require standing up to impact. The wood makes good mallets…big mallets are called beetles. Another favored use for the wood was bungs, to seat into barrel holes. Combined, these uses created the name, “beetlebung”.
Martha’s Vineyard has produced another unique name, for the teensy, but loud-voiced amphibian harbinger-of-spring, Hyla crucifer, known in most places as the spring peeper. Here on the Island, this froglet is called the “pinkletink”. In Vineyard swamps, come springtime, if you look carefully, you can find a pinkletink up a beetlebung.
Let’s sail off to the southeast, and venture across the Atlantic, to Africa. Let’s contemplate on some of the names for antelopes and kin. Oryx. Eland. Klipspringer. Nyala. Algazel. Wildebeest. Impala. Taurotragus. Reebok. Kobus. Oribi. Gemsbok. The Neotragini. Grysbok. Bongo. Duiker. Dik-dik. There’s also a Kirk’s Dik-dik. There are the five members of the Damaliscus clan — the Topi, the Coastal Topi. the Korrigum, the Tiang, and the Tsessebe. What a Rabelasian poem of nameage!
Finally, there is my lifelong favorite antelope name, the Gerenuk. I had always thought the initial “G” was soft, like a “J”, but recently checked the dictionary, and found out that gerenuk is pronounced with a hard “G” sound. All these years I’ve been mispronounciating!
Furthermore, there are no gerenuks.
Gerenuk, like sheep, have no distinct plural form.
One gerenuk, two gerenuk.