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30 April, 2014

Platypus


This map shows European languages grouped by the etymology of their word for the platypus.

  • This particular map shows several trends. The United Kingdom was the first European nation to discover the platypus, around 1800. As zoologists across the continent became more aware of this curious animal, an interesting combination of political and linguistic factors began to affect its nomenclature.
  • As expected, Romance languages tended to use the Latinized Greek term Ornithorhynchus, meaning “bird snout”. The English language, meanwhile, retained the older name “platypus,” meaning “flat-footed” in Greek. Countries with Germanic presence, including nations under the Austrian Empire, used an etymology akin to “beak-animal”. The native word for “beak” was combined with the suffix “-ar,” -“ak,” “tier,” etc., meaning “animal” or “thing”. In Russia, “utkonos” literally means “duck-nose” or “duck-beak” and started as a calque (direct translation) of Ornithorhynchus. This etymology was spread throughout the Russian Empire, imitated by other regional languages.
  • Here is a map of European empires
    in 1900 for comparison.
  • Some variations exist within these groups; for example Hungarian (“duck-billed mammal”) or Finnish (“water beak animal”).
  • An interesting exception is Icelandic. The purist language policies of the Icelandic government try to avoid loanwords, leading to “Breiðnefur”. This means something like “Broad-noser”.
  • “Ludener” is in the Mari language.
  • “Chozhnyr” is in Udmurt and means “sturgeon,” but apparently is also used to describe the platypus.
  • “Urdekborin” is in Tatar.
  • “Babyzvyndz” is in Ossetic.
  • “Bedazjok” is in Chechen.

2 Comments on “Platypus

David Keating
8 June, 2017 at 3:26 am

Direct from the cabinet of curiosities. What an ingenious idea to map this word use. Absolutely fascinating. You have left out Irish ‘platapas’;,Welsh ‘hwyatbig’;

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