Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Cow Crashed Into the Moon

Late this week, but you’ll just have to forgive me. And you will, because it’s a good one.
mooncalf (MOON-kaf) — noun: 1. a fool. 2. a freak.
Now I can’t remember what reminded me of this great Shakespearean insult, which Stephano calls Caliban in The Tempest. Regardless, here it is. The term mooncalf derives from an apparently widespread belief that the moon’s dark powers could inhibit the proper development of a fetus — bovine or otherwise — and render it an “abortive, shapeless, fleshy mass,” as Etymonline puts it. From there, the extension to “monster” and then just “stupid thing” seems fairly logical, as far as insults go.

So great, there’s a fun word to call the English majors you despise, but I wonder what, exactly, the Europeans of centuries past thought the moon would do and, more importantly, how they thought embryonic ruination could have been prevented. Wouldn’t any pregnant animal be as helpless to the presence of the moon as it would be to, for example, night? Perhaps they pulled their pregnant women in side for the duration of their gestation, but would they do the same to the farm animals? Did they have some sort of village preggo room? Any practices along these lines, I’d imagine, would be equally as harmful to fetal development. “Wife, you’re with child, so now you must live underground, with the cow and the pig. You’ll have lots to talk about.”

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