Tuesday, October 20, 2009

On squirrels and acorns and llamas and ducks

If you haven’t already done so, you need to hear the Llama song. In fact, even if you have heard it, you need to hear it again. And again. And again.

Once it’s properly stuck... Let's change the lyrics! (As has been done, more than once)

Here’s a squirrel

There's a squirrel

And another D.C. squirrel

Hungry squirrel

Ninja squirrel




I have shown you pictures of squirrels before. I have spoken of why I find them interesting (they pose for photographs). I have explained how I have a(t least one) friend who speaks Squirrel. But I have not told you about the etymology behind the word squirrel.

I don’t know the etymology behind the word (so I am not going to tell you either).

I bet you’re really disappointed now.

What I do know, however, is that the Norwegian word for squirrel is ekorn. If your mother tongue isn’t Norwegian (and what are the odds, huh?), you might not have known this (but now you do! Wee!). And thus you might also not have known that it is pronounced almost exactly like “acorn”. Coincidence? I think not! I smell a buried nut somewhere!

My theory is that either the word ekorn was exported from Norwegian to English, but somewhere along the line something got wrong; OR (and let’s face it – Norwegian isn’t exactly a world language – chances are…) it was the other way around. I can picture it clearly: an English (or Irish or American or Welsh or Australian or even Singaporian – is that what people from Singapore is called? I used to know someone from there, I should have asked him) man walks into a Norwegian bar. He is carrying an acorn. He always does this, as an ice-breaker of sorts. (His name is also Mr Acorn, but that’s besides the point.) The man, Mr. Acorn, points to the nut, and says: “acorn”. The people in the bar, the Norwegians, like the word. They actually like it so much that they decide to name the only remaining animal in Norway they hadn’t yet found a name for. Due to a common Norwegian skill of mispronouncing certain English words, however, they named it ekorn. Everyone is happy. (Pehaps except Mr. Acorn, who had to change his name since everyone kept calling him squirrel...)

The third alternative is, of course, that both the Norwegian ekorn and the English acorn are derived from the same original source. Even if this explanation is slightly more boring than the one I envisioned, it might seem like it is also slightly more realistic. From what I could find online (quick tip: what I really, really want for Christmas is a GOOD etymology dictionary. Seriously!), the Norwegian word ekorn apparently comes from the Old Norse ikorni. It also appears that both 'oak' and 'acorn' too have close ties to Old Norse. As does the Norwegian word for oak, eik. Still, they all appear to be related to a different Norse word than ikorni; akarn. If I knew any Old Norse (but I faked my way through that part of high school), I might have been able to tell you if these two words are related at all; if they both come from an even older, Indo-European word; or if these simply are slanderous speculations from my part. Until I get a second opinion from an actual etymologist (as opposed to a wannabe-etymology-geek-but-doesn’t-really-know-enough-about-it-to-qualify), my guess is as good as yours.

What I learned while trying to come up with clever ways of rounding off this post, however, is that the word “squirrel” also is a term in debating jargon. It indicates “a definition from the side of the opening speaker that makes it too easy for his or her side” (according to Wikipedia). I guess that having today’s post touch upon debating jargon is appropriate, since yesterday’s post was about a debate (and it in turn spurred a debate). Today’s post is of a lighter kind (I’m willing to claim it is Delusional Thursday material even if it’s only Tuesday), but by all means – if anyone has strong opinions about squirrels (or acorns) I’m more than happy to hear them…


Tundiel said...

*dies laughing* Mari, you're a gem, you know that, don't you?

*is still laughing at Mr. Acorn*

Joris said...

my mac came with an etymology dictionary built in -- well, a link to one, let's see if I can give you the url :)

Be right back :)

It's the Oxford American Writer's Thesaurus, and it does appear not to be available online (at least not that I can find for free with a quick google search) -- it also doesn't contain the word acorn ;)

Cruella Collett said...

Tara - right back atcha! :) (I have the Llama song stuck in my head... You?)

Joris - thanks for trying, at least :) I mostly want one in Norwegian, though, but an English (or American) wouldn't hurt either. It sounds like it needs some revisions if it doesn't contain "acorn", though... ;)

Watery Tart said...

Did you notice with Eik, you have also connected ELK, thereby proving squirrels and elk are related? I ADORE your picture/song! Especially the ninja squirrel, I think.

Cruella Collett said...

Hehe, it seems to me that you're good at the same thing within etymology as I am, Tami - creative guessing ;)

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