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This blog is about the fascinating, fun, and challenging things about the English language. I hope to entertain you and to help you with problems or just questions you might have with spelling and usage. I go beyond just stating what is right and what is wrong, and provide some history or some tips to help you remember. Is something puzzling you? Feel free to email me at wordlady.barber@gmail.com.
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Thursday, December 4, 2014

12 Days of Wordlady: Partridge

I am starting today a series to keep you entertained during December and early January, looking at each of the gifts mentioned in the well-known "Twelve Days of Christmas" song. And, before you start protesting, yes, I know that the first day is Christmas itself and the last day Epiphany, but I don't delude myself that you would rather be reading daily Wordlady blog posts than having fun with your family over the holidays, so I'm spreading the joy a little bit.

First up: The Partridge.

Inquiring minds will of course want to know....

What does it have to do with farting?

When partridges are scared, they take off with a loud cackle and whirring sound of their wings. For this reason, the ancient Greeks called the bird a perdok, which was related to their verb perdesthai, which meant "to break wind." If you go even further back than Greek, into Indo-European, you find the root perd meaning "to break wind". As we have seen, this migrated down through Greek and Latin and French and English to give us "partridge". 

But it also migrated through Germanic into English, undergoing a few consonant and vowel changes to give us the word "fart"!

OK, you are never going to be able to hear this song in the same way again. 

Photo by Dan Gold on Unsplash

If you or a friend would be interested in taking my "Rollicking History of English" course in downtown Toronto in the new year, please get in touch (wordlady.barber@gmail.com).

For why we write "twelfth" rather than "twelvth":

For pipers, click here:

For lords a-leaping:

For why I'm not the Word Wench:

For why milkmaids work in a dairy rather than a milkery:

For what swans have to do with singing, click here: 

Why we don't say "gooses" and "gooselings: 

For why we don't say "fiveth", "fiveteen", and "fivety", click here: 

For why it was OK to call the Virgin Mary a "bird", click here: 

For what French hens have to do with syphilis, click here: 

For turtle-doves, click here: http://katherinebarber.blogspot.ca/2014/12/12-days-of-wordlady-turtle-doves.html

P.S. If you find the English language fascinating, you might enjoy regular updates about English usage and word origins from Wordlady. Receive every new post delivered right to your inbox! You can either:
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1 comment:

  1. Not related to Christmas but related to birds. Why are a bunch of crows called a murder? What is the origin?


About Me

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Canada's Word Lady, Katherine Barber is an expert on the English language and a frequent guest on radio and television. She was Editor-in-Chief of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary. Her witty and informative talks on the stories behind our words are very popular. Contact her at wordlady.barber@gmail.com to book her for speaking engagements; she can tailor her talks to almost any subject. She is also available as an expert witness for lawsuits.