I am a freelance columnist, and am working on a book about feral pigeons. I thought the board might be interested in the column I submited this date.
I am a fan of pigeons. Not the fancy domestic breeds: Those are nice but I am in awe of the urban pigeons, the rock doves who swoop and soar independent above our heads. Originally nesting in cliffs these close cousins to mourning doves have shared our homes since we've had houses. They have not only survived contact with humans they have thrived upon it.
Curiously their success has earned our contempt. They were once offered to Gods as proof of devotion, but today we mock and abuse them and rather than clean up our trash that feeds their numbers we even poison them. Why do we hate what we once revered? After years of research (well, weeks) I may have stumbled upon the answer; it's a question of language.
Once upon a time there were a happy-go-lucky set of blond heads known as the Saxons who farmed the rocky northern coasts of Europe. Their general word for bird was "duffla-dopa", meaning a creature which dives from the sky.
Each year after the spring planting the Saxons would vacation in exotic places like England where they slaughtered the native Angles (Angle-land, get it?) burned their villages and stole everything that wasn't nailed down. Eventually the Saxons took such a liking to England they decided to steal the entire country.
Mixed with the local language "duffla-dopa" was slowly shortened to "duffla", and then hardened to "duva" and within a few centuries was being pronounced as "dove". But it now referred to only that family of avians with big chests and little heads, natives to both the Saxon homeland and England as well.
And then just when the Saxons had gotten England fixed up just the way they liked it who should arrive uninvited but William The Conqueror, who brought with him the feudal system and a big chunk of French-ified Latin.
Now the Romans, who invented Latin, also invented arches and concrete and office parties, lots of stuff so practical that their Latin names have often survived with little alteration; like the word "pipio", which was a hollow tube that carried water. A Roman "pipio" is our "pipe".
Take a length of pipio, poke some holes in it and blow on one end and you have a musical instrument the Romans also called a pipio,(a piccolo), which produces a chirping sound similar to that made by the baby birds found in nests in Roman temples and
civic buildings so the Romans called the birds who built those nests "pipio" as well.
Then the Roman Empire collapsed and Latin went down the pipio. Europe dissolved into a babble of tongues until the year 800 when Charlemagne had his bureaucrats translate the old Latin red tape into French red tape for his new empire. It was then that the feathered "pipio" acquired the new pronunciation "pijon". And it was this name that the Normans carried across the channel in 1066 where the Anglo-Saxon hard mouths mis-pronounced it, "pidge-on".
So in England there were now two words for one family of birds: The Norman pigeon and the Anglo-Saxon dove. This was not the only example of pairing pronouns in use at the time; there were Saxon "swine" on the farm that became Norman "pork" when they got to the table; the peasants tended Saxon "sheep" but the nobility ate French "mutton".
These words became weapons in a linguistic gorilla warfare between the invader and invaded. And since no self respecting nobleman would stoop to learn a skill such as writing, it fell to the brightest Saxon sons of England to record and define the English language at its birth. And that is why pigeons came out of the Norman invasion with such bad Saxon press.
Dove was a Saxon word so the birds that lived in the forests where the Saxon peasants toiled were called doves. They became symbols of devotion, gentleness and love. Pigeon was a Norman word and was attached to birds who lived in the cities and atop castles where the Norman overlords resided. Pigeons became symbols of stupidity, waste, foolishness and disease.
There is no logic in this. A pigeon is no less devoted to its mate than a dove and makes no less a loving parent. Still, tell people you are having doves killed and you will be assaulted. Call the victims pigeons and everyone sympathizes with your problem.
And that is the damage language can do when it's words are used as weapons...against birds or humans.
Kimit Muston's columns appear regularly in the Los Angeles Daily News. He may be contacted via inditer.com.
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"Lead on Kindly Fowl..."
Very interesting reading--thanks!
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