Sunday, November 22, 2009

Before Pug-Beagles Walked the Earth

A quick update to my long-delayed word-of-the-week series. Lovers of designer dogs should know that I won’t be writing about the kind of animal that usually comes to mind when one hears the word puggle. No, the subject of this post is a little harder to love.

image courtesy of ugly overload

See? That little scrunched up whatchamacallit ball is a baby echidna — cute in its own way but probably less-than-appealing to the trophy pooch crowd. And this baby echidna and his fellow echidnitas would probably be pretty pissed to know that that there’s another species trotting around and being called puggles.
puggle (PUH-guhl) — 1. a baby monotreme. 2. a mixed breed of dog created by mating a pug and a beagle.
That’s right. Long before the term became associated with pug-beagles, it referred to baby monotremes — that bizarro order of egg-laying mammals that includes platypi, echidnas. I first encountered the word in this June 8 New York Times article on the wonder that is the echidna. Here is the sentence: “They lay leathery eggs, as reptiles do, but then feed the so-called puggles that hatch with milk — though drizzled out of glands in the chest rather than expressed through nippled teats, and sometimes so enriched with iron that it looks pink.” Lovely, no? (I have a previous entry on the monotreme habit of milk-sweating, in case you’re interested.)

If you’re Googling the term puggle, expect a hell of a lot of canine-related articles and not too much on the history of original definition of the term. The Wiktionary page, however, claims that the original puggle comes from the Australian verb puggle, meaning “to clean drains.” According to Wiktionary, “English settlers in Australia would puggle to get rabbits out of holes and sometimes find an echidna,” with the source of this possible etymology coming from a November 11, 2000, broadcast of the Australian Broadcasting Commission’s Radio National Science Show. And I guess if you pulled out a baby echidna from a pipe and didn’t know what it was, I guess puggle is as good a name as anything else. Obligatory Simpsons reference: That’s an odd name. I’d have called them chazzwazzers.”

Incidentally, I checked Wiktionary’s list of baby animal names to see if some unfortunate species’ young was coincidentally called pekapoos or goldendoodles. Thankfully no. However, I did learn a few new ones: cria (a baby llama, vicuna or alpaca), leveret (a baby hare), and parr (a baby salmon).

Previous words of the week:
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