Saturday, November 20, 2010


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."]


Jenny Davidson said...


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

Zed said...

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