What’s in a name?
‘How do you remember those Latin names?’ I have been asked this question many times! It was the Swedish botanist, Carl Linnaeus, who came up with the binomial (Genus/species) system of classifying living things and as a person who has studied biological sciences it can’t be beaten for worldwide consistency on species identification. But…
“Two Streptopelia turtur….. And a Perdix perdix in a Pyrus communis tree…”
…would have anyone turning to the gin at Christmas.
So, instead, raise a glass to the common names we use, names our language would be much the poorer for, in prose and verse, if we didn’t have them. Take, for instance, the humble Woodlouse, it has over one hundred vernacular names in the UK. We all have our favourites but here are a few with their county of origin; Cheese-log (Bucks), Chisel-pig (Berks), Curly-button (Isle of Man), Grampher (Somerset), Monkey peas (Kent), Tiddy-hog (Lincs) and the strange Pissiebeds (Northumberland).
We also have a Dor beetle called a Dumbledor, is that where the headmaster of Hogworts got his name? Two names I can remember from my early days were ‘Jasper’ for the common wasp and ‘Spadger’ for the House Sparrow, interestingly, this Berkshire name was used by Mackenzie Crook when he played Worzel Gummidge last Christmas.
For plants we have the poetic ‘Daffydowndilly’ for the daffodil and the Dandelion has the name of ‘Tiddle-beds’ probably due to its diuretic properties, it is also known as ‘Old mans or Peasant clock’, and we all have blown the seeds and made a wish.
The weather has many local names as well, from Scotland comes ‘Stoating’, describing rain that bounces of the ground and from Devon comes the magical word ‘Ammil’ that refers to the sun light reflecting off a hoar frost. Idiosyncratic and very British, yes, but let’s not forget them and make sure we pass them on to the next generation especially as only 30% of 8-11 year olds, in one survey, knew what a Magpie was, yet 90% knew a Dalek.
Finally, when Dad stops pulling his hair out over the mounds of soil that have appeared, overnight, on his prize lawn, go tell him it was only a ‘Mowdiwarp’ going about his business… enchanting!
Nature’s calendar: January
With increasing day length the excitement in our garden birds is audibly clear, the growing babble of song, not only at dawn, but throughout the daylight hours reflects an interest in establishing a territory for the up and coming breeding season. Listen out for the calls of the Blue Tit, Great Tit and Dunnock and also the melodious call of the Song Thrush.
Moth numbers are increasing very slowly, the Spring Usher having a very appropriate name for this time of year. This is one of several moth species where only the males have wings, the flightless females attracting their suitors using pheromones, the moth equivalent of Lancôme or Christian Dior.
Keep an eye on muddy areas (or on snow, if we get any) for animal and bird tracks and try to identify what beasty has crossed your path, there are some good sites online to enable this.
Following on from last month’s blog, if you have any Mistletoe with berries, and an apple tree in your garden, make a small cut in the bark of the tree and squash a berry in it, then wrap it up with a piece of old bandage and you may have your own supply of mistletoe in the future, the ultimate Christmas decoration recycling.
My resolution for the new year is to make more time to sit and watch nature, it’s good for your mental wellbeing and it will lead to a deeper understanding of the natural world and how much we are a part of it and reliant upon it for our existence…oh, and remember those names just in case a Mowdiwarp appears from its underground dwelling to say hello.
Happy New Year