Tag Archives: Language

A long as its black.

The leopard (Panthera pardus) is a member of the big cats found in Africa, the Middle East  and some parts of Asia.

The South American, equivalent is the Jaguar (Panthera onca), slightly heavier build than the Leopard.

Both the Leopard and the Jaguar have melanistic  (black pigmented) individuals, both called black panthers.

Thus a black panther can be a black leopard or a black jaguar.

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Leopard (Panthera pardus).

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Call me Teddy.

Did you know, the teddy bear is named after former American President Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt.

The President was out on a hunting trip as the guest of the governor of Mississippi in 1902. After three unsuccessful days, guides tracked down an old black bear, tied it to a tree, directed the president to the spot and offered him the opportunity to shoot the bear. The president refused on strength that it would be unsportsmanlike to shoot an injured tied up bear.

When word of this reached the newspapers a cartoonist drew a cartoon of the event.

Drawing inspiration from the cartoon a New York sweet shop owner asked permission from Roosevelt to call some soft toy bears his wife made (on display in his shop) Teddy’s bears. The rest, as they say, is history.

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I agree with your observation but not your conclusion.

The fever tree (Koorsboom in Afrikaans)(Acacia xanthophloea) grows mainly in depressions and shallow pans where underground water is present or surface water collects after summer rains. It is also found in low-lying swampy areas, along the margins of lakes and on river banks.

Early pioneers noticed that some of their parties contracted very bad fevers when or after they have camped near these trees. Due to this association, the tree was considered to be the cause and named “Fever Tree”.

What was not known at the time is that the places where fever trees grow are also ideal breeding grounds for malaria carrying mosquitoes, the real cause of the illness that befell them.

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The fever tree (Acacia xanthophloea)

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King of the Beasts

By popular expression, the lion is the king of the animals. The oldest known reference to the lion as the king of beasts is found in the fables of Aesop. Aesop is believed to have lived in ancient Greece between 620 and 560 BC.

In modern times lion regularly become not only the king of beasts but also the king of the jungle.

Many are willing to point out that the lion can’t be king of the jungle as it is an animal living on the African savanna.

To be fair “jungle” is a word of sanskrit origin meaning “uncultivated land” and the asiatic lion (Panthera leo persica) used to roam across large parts of Asia and Europe.

Given the right lion, lion is king of the jungle.

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Lion (Panthera leo).

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Myth became Legend, Legend became Truth.

Why do the Afrikaans speaking people refer to a grey rhinoceros as white? The popular etymological story goes like this:

The Dutch at the Cape of Good Hope called the white rhinoceros the “wide” (Dutch: wijd, Afrikaans: wyd) rhinoceros to refer to its wide mouth adapted for grazing – a grass eater. Its mouth is an anatomical feature that distinguishes it from the black rhinoceros, which is a browser – a leaf eater.

The English misheard/mistranslated ‘wijd’ and started calling the rhino “white”.

Some years later, the Dutch/Afrikaners  on hearing that the English refer to this rhino as white, decided to use the Afrikaans translation for white rather than stick with the anatomically correct name they purportedly gave it earlier.

You won’t be alone in your incredulity; Kees Rookmaaker, Chief Editor of the Rhino Resource Center wrote in a 2003 publication “the popular explanation that ‘white’ is derived from the Afrikaans word ‘wyd’ is examined and found to be unsubstantiated and historically incorrect.”

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White rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum) at Pilanesberg.

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Freelancing lately?

Freelance, (free lance) came into being to describe a knight  who was not in bound service to a liege lord (during the Middle Ages – feudal system). Thus fleelance is literally a free (not bound) lance.

Freelance was only recognized as a verb in the twentieth century  (1903).

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Rider with Lance, Harcourt Park World Invitational Jousting Tournament, Upper Hutt, New Zealand.

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Secretarybird, do you take notes?

What inspired the unusual common name, Secretarybird, (Afrikaans: Sekretarisvoël) for this bird?

Perhaps we will never know for certain.

It is regularly told in South Africa that the common name of the Secretarybird is due to the dark quill like feathers, resembling a quill pen behind the ear (apparently common practice for an 18th century secretary).

A more recent theory is that “secretary” is a French corruption of the Arabic saqr-et-tair or “hunter-bird”. Inspiration or after the fact fit?

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Secretarybird (Sagittarius serpentarius) at Spier, outside Stellenbosh.

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