Saturday, May 05, 2012

Look! Up in the Sky! It’s… Oh God, Get Under Cover!

I’ll give you one guess how I picked this week’s word.
aasvogel (ASS-foh-gul) — noun: any number of species of South African vulture.
Last week, I ended a discussion of the pretty-sounding word suzerainty with a discussion of a less fortunate string of letters, superanus, which does not refer to any sort of distended part of the human anatomy but which any reasonable human would assume does. This week, more of the same, really. Actually, no — it’s worse, because aasvogel actually refers to an indubitably unpleasant thing: a bird that eats dead flesh.

(He’s making that expression because he just found out what humans call him.)

In fact, that’s literally what aasvogel means. This obscure Afrikaans term, which today is rendered as aasvoël, comprises two parts: aas, “carrion,” and vogel, meaning “bird” and coming from the same Proto-Germanic word that gives English the word fowl. And while a South African person would probably recognize aasvogel for what it is, Wiktionary provides an unusual usage note: “This word has no currency in modern South African English. It has been used by writers Rider Haggard and Saki to lend color and authenticity to their works.” If that’s true, then it’s validating to hear, because that means I’m not alone in seeing this word and saying, “Now that word. That is the weird flavor I’m looking for.”

The flavor in question being aasvogel flavor.

Ahem.

And yes, the modern equivalent of aasvogel, aasvoël, is really close to assfowl and therefore assfoul, and that it itself presents certain complications.

And additionally yes, there once existed an author named Rider Haggard. Should it surprise you to know that he wrote adventure books? No. No, it shouldn’t.

Previous words of the week after the jump.

2 comments:

  1. H. Rider Haggard, most often. Well known for King Solomon's Mines (which created the character of Allan Quatermain) and She (which coined the phrase "She Who Must Be Obeyed").

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  2. So I see. I'm actually fairly familiar with both Quatermain and Ayesha. I just didn't recognize the name when I posted this. Was it the missing "H"? Yes, I'm sure it was that.

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