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through Jeremy Butterfield.In Loanwords, native origins.7 comments on The legendary aardvark. Very first word in thedictionary?


Everyone knows the word, yet how many have ever seen the animal? The definition

medium-sized, nocturnal african mammal, Orycteropus afer, which has actually sparse hair, lengthy ears, an elongated snout, strong burrowing limbs, and also a special tail, feeding solely on ants and termites

does not make the beast sound instantly prepossessing, however some human being find this Cyrano de Bergerac of the animal kingdom cute. (The wording of that Oxford English thesaurus definition could also suggest, rather surreally, the it is the critter’s tail i m sorry feeds specifically on ants and termites).

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The aardvark is not mythical, favor the phoenix, because it yes, really exists, yet it has its very own urban myth. Ask anyone which indigenous comes very first in one English dictionary, and they will assuredly price “aardvark“. However it usually is no the an initial word in “the dictionary”.

And the very first word in one English thesaurus is…

That honour typically goes come the letter A, together in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). You might think a simple letter would certainly be children play come define. In fact, the OED divides it into no fewer 보다 33 senses, consisting of everyday meanings such together the music note, and an ext technical persons such together A denoting a socio-economic grouping and also A for Ångström.

Dozens of abbreviation follow prior to the next entry, the humble but indispensable indefinite short article (aka “general determiner”) a. That is adhered to by many entries for a in various guises, such together in Bob Dylan’s “The times they are a-changin“, together a prefix (asexual), and as a Latin or Greek suffix (idea, data).

Finally, us strike gold through the an initial truly vocabulary entry. And also it is? (A really muffled drumroll for) aa, meaning a stream or watercourse, last spotted in 1430 and significant as not only obsolete but rare. Several much more curiosities, including some that might be helpful for Scrabblists, interference (aal, from Hindi, the Indian mulberry tree, aapa, native Urdu, definition older sister) prior to we get ago to ours ant-eating, ground-digging mammal v its thirty-centimetre-long tongue.

Why “aardvark”?

South african Dutch, which came to be Afrikaans, is the language native which English obtained aardvark, originally written as aardvarken. The aard- component is the dutch word aarde, which way “earth” and also comes from the same Germanic stock as the English word. (The connection in between the two is much easier to check out in the medieval Dutch kind of the word, which was ertha.) The -varken part method “pig”. And the animal is also called earth-hog and earth-pig in a loan translation.

Another sign of just how English and also Afrikaans are at some point related have the right to be viewed in words Apartheid. It supposed literally “apart-ness”, and the -heid facet matches the -hood the childhood, priesthood, and also other “-hoods“.

Other Afrikaans words in people English

Afrikaans is one offshoot of Dutch, and also is one of the most widely spoken of southern Africa’s eleven main languages. Its gifts to human being English incorporate trek together a noun and also verb, and also commandeer. Commandeer is main point borrowed, a little bit like a parent’s car, in the it was borrowed from Afrikaans kommandeer, which obtained it from dutch commanderen, which borrowed it indigenous French commander. Phew!

It increased to importance in brothers English throughout the an initial Boer war of 1880-1881. It to be originally offered to average “to pressure into armed forces service”, together The Times report on 5 February 1881:

The night formerly the Boers had commandeered the natives…and compelled them come fight.

Its more metaphorical an interpretation of acquisition arbitrary possession the something come later:

The naïve insurance claims put forward by the Boers come some one-of-a-kind Providence—a procedure which a trusted German movie critic described as “commandeering the Almighty”.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, 1900.

Rather much more colourful is scoff, the unshened noun because that food. It is indigenous Afrikaans schoff, representing dutch schoft “quarter the a day”, hence the four meals in a day. The OED’s very first quotation originates from the 1846 Swell’s Night Guide; or, a peep through The an excellent Metropolis, a rather louche guide for the man about town in search of amazing nightlife, including casual sex (plus ça change):

It vas hout-and-hout good scoff, and also no flies.

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(The spelling is no a mistake. It presumably mimics the speaker’s accent.)

And a word which needs a wider airing is stompie, a cigarette butt, or a partially-smoked cigarette, particularly one stubbed out and also kept for relighting later, as in south African playwright Athol Fugard’s

The whiteman quit the bulldozer and also smoked a cigarette… that threw me the stompie.