What links the eastern Black Sea coast, singing and breaking wind?

Yes, it’s that time again where I get wearisome of politics and throw some etymologies I enjoyed out at you. Today we focus on birds, and some fairly strange ways in how we have arrived at the modern words: swan, pheasant and partridge.


This one is the most obvious, yet slightly counter-intuitive. The word comes from Proto-Germanic, swanaz, meaning singer. This ultimately stems from Proto-Indo European swen, to make sound. While we do not typically associate swans with singing, we do of course have the phrase swansong. Allegedly, this is because swans are mute most of their life, but emit a beautiful song before death. The Greek philosopher Aristotle put this down to their joy at returning to Apollo, the god which they consecrated to.


While the word comes into English from the French, faisan, the roots of this word are Greek. It comes from the River Phasis, a waterway that flows into the black sea. The birds were said to have lived here in abundance, giving them the title Phasianos, (literally, Phasis Bird).


This word ultimately comes from the PIE root perd-, meaning ‘to break wind’. It comes from Greek perdix, which was related to the verb meaning ‘to break wind’: perdesthai. Apparently, the reason for naming it such is the whirring noise the bird’s wings make as they take flight. If the word had come into English via the usual p to f sound change we see from Latin to Germanic languages, it would be called a fartridge.

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The Condition of the Left in England

'A grotesque mixture of Enlightenment Liberalism, One-Nation Conservatism and Socialism.' Skeptic and linguaphile.

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