When I was a little guy I couldn’t say my name properly. It always came out as “Mit.” As a result, I was called Mit for a long time and still hear it from time to time from my sister.
In grade 9 or so, we learned that words which imitate the sound of something are called onomatopoeia. There are countless examples in probably every language. Rattle, bump, thud, clap, drip and achoo all come to mind.
We see many examples in the bird world. When Europeans first arrived in North America, it was obvious what to name that little black, gray and white bird that kept repeating “chick-a-dee-dee-dee.” Others are the whip-poor-will, the veery, the cuckoo, the towhee, the pewee, the skua, the pipit, and the killdeer. In French we have the pic (woodpecker), the oie (Canada goose) and the sizerin (redpoll)..think of French nasal sounds! In Europe, there is a secretive little bird that repeats “chiff chaff” endlessly. Guess what it is called?
This has got me thinking of other names which are clearly a representation of the sound that the creature makes but which take a little imagination to figure out.
You may disagree with me but here is my list and why:
CROW: I think that this comes clearly from “caw”.
DUCK: comes as a variation of “quack.”
FLICKER: this species has a call note which sounds exactly like “flick – uh”.
GULL: listen for those ring-billed gulls in the sky who repeat “cow cow” which, with some alteration, becomes gull.
JAY: that familiar autumn call from the woods sounds just like “jay jay”.
What do you think?