This place matters

This place matters

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Albatross etymology included

The albatross is a noble, yet silly bird. They're known for being large, performing nutty mating dances, and of course, being metaphors for things. Etymology types think that albatross was a mispronunciation, or at least misunderstanding, of the Spanish word alcatraz, for gannet or pelican. Even though the albatross is neither a gannet nor a pelican. It's a sea bird, close enough.
The name for the island Alcatraz comes from the Arabic by way of arcane Spanish word for pelican, and it was so-named because it was home to a bunch of pelicans before it was home to a bunch of prisoners. Imagine if they'd named the island Pelican instead. Not nearly so ominous-sounding. Although I suppose it only sounds ominous because of the association. If I remember my sociology correctly, the act of ascribing meaning to something based on association is called symbolic interactionism
Pelicans don't live on Alcatraz anymore, nor do prisoners, as the prison was closed in the sixties due to high operating expenses. The island is inhabited today by lots of other sea birds, along with lots of tourists. Myself, I was near Alcatraz once. An actual trip to the island was more expensive than my cheap ass was willing to pay, so instead, Jean and I paid a dude twenty bucks to sail us by it on his houseboat. Which seemed perfectly legit at the time. And a shout-out to Jean's man Chris, who inexplicably wanted to be mentioned in my blog. 
Maybe if I'd had a chance of seeing pelicans I'd have coughed up the extra dough. Part of me has always suspected pelicans aren't real. I mean, they're a pretty absurd animal when you think about it. They have a built-in fishing net. That's not normal.
According to legend, the pelican, during times of drought, will pierce her own breast and feed her blood to her young to keep them from dying. It's not true, nor even possible as far as I know, but this did lead early Christians to use the pelican to symbolize Christ. Which at least makes slightly more sense than using a fish, in my opinion, anyway. Fish are smelly and not too bright, plus we eat them. 
You caught me; this isn't a pelican. It is, however,
a rather deranged-looking parrot. A parrot, who,
incidentally bit the crap out of my finger as soon as
I was done taking this picture. 


Lisa said...

Yea, but can you imagine trying to draw a pelican in the sand before the Roman's caught on? All legs and beak and pointy bits...

Olga said...

This parrot has a really wicked smile.
Your post is wonderful.

Brigid Daull Brockway said...

Thanks, Olga!

Anonymous said...

Maybe it's not easy to make an acronym out of pelican in Greek. Ichthus seemed to work pretty well.

Justin said...

You're my new favorite.

Things To Do said...

Wow, I've been to Alcatraz a couple of times and even during the tour never once did they say where the island name came from. But they did talk about how to use a spoon to pull a prison break, so it had that going for it.