Saturday, November 20, 2010

Snouts

I hadn't realized that a porpoise was a "porcopiscis, lit. ‘hog-fish’ or ‘fish-hog’" as per the OED. This association of porpoises with pigs is not a one-off either, as the Scots word "mereswine" also refers to porpoises. (There's also a more up-to-date and explicit Scots word "sea-swine," which can refer either to porpoises or to wrasses.) There are also other examples of this like the boar-fish (It. "pesce porco") -- what they all share is snoutedness, or at least the presence of protuberances in the vicinity of the mouth

[This came up in an IM conversation with Marina -- fittingly, there's an obscure classical Latin phrase porcus marinus -- who objected that the front end of a porpoise's face isn't technically a snout as it doesn't have nostrils. I don't know if this is right on the merits; it turns out, however, that "snout" is a ridiculously flexible term, which at various times has meant an elephant's trunk, the prow of a ship, the "front portion or termination of a glacier," and "one or other of various species of moths characterized by having abnormally long palpi projecting in front of the head; esp. the snout-moth, Hypena proboscidalis."]

2 comments:

Jenny Davidson said...

Charming!

The standard measurement for reptiles is "snout to vent"...

Sarang said...

Thanks for the factoid! Apparently there's even an acronym for this, SVL, which sounds disturbingly chat-room-like.