I’ve started this year by beginning the Swedish course on Duolingo. I’m happy with how my French is going so I decided to have a look at Swedish as I like Germanic languages but find German complex to say the least. One of the first things that struck me was the Swedish for bird is ‘fågel’. As it happens, bird is one of the words I do know in German: ‘vogel’. Likewise it is ‘vogel’ in Dutch and ‘fugl’ in Danish. Contrast this with ‘oiseau’ (French), ‘uccello’ (Italian) and ‘pájaro’ (Spanish). So I had to wonder, where on earth do we get ‘bird’ from?
A little research unveils that apparently bird comes from the Saxon word ‘bridd’, a name given to nestlings and small birds. No one knows the exact root of this, but at a guess I’d say it’s imitative of the cries of chicks. However, more interestingly, the Old English for bird was indeed ‘fugol’. For some reason, this died out and was replaced by bird, but it does remain in the English word ‘fowl’, which we occasionally use as a collective noun for birds.
So there we have it. Stay tuned for more ill-formed ramblings about etymology throughout the year.