Brigid Daull Brockway is technically a writer

Brigid Daull Brockway is technically a writer

A blog about words, wordplay, and etymology, with slightly more than occasional political rants.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Capestrano gets swallows, Ohio gets buzzards

It's the Ides of March and the sky becomes dark. You look up, and the dim, gray disc that passes for the sun these days blotted out by the mottled black wings of buzzards, swooping crazily toward the earth and then looping as crazily upward. To sane humans, this horrific sight would portend a coming apocalypse. To the good folks of Ohio, this horrific sight portends spring.
Every year on the 15th of march, a great wake of turkey buzzards descends upon the city of Hinckley, Ohio, and the city actually celebrates this. Although by the middle of March here in Ohio, you'll take any change in scenery you can get, I guess. I would have blogged this back in March, but I just found out about it.
The word buzzard descends from a Latin version of a word for hawk, making the term buzzard inaccurate - a hawk is defined as a bird of prey, but a turkey buzzard is a scavenger. Because England apparently doesn't have any birds that live solely on carrion, so early English settlers assumed that all large birds soaring overhead were hawks.
The correct term for the ominous bottom feeders of the sky is turkey vulture; vulture may come from a Latin word meaning to pluck or tear. The turkey part of the turkey vulture's name refers to the fact that the critters resemble wild turkeys - or at least, they look like a terrifying caricature of a wild turkey - sort of like how It looks like a terrifying caricature of a circus clown. I told you about the etymology of the word turkey in this post.
Facts notwithstanding, given the choice,
I'd take on the clown.
The collective noun for vultures is a wake, and although I've not found an official etymology, I assume this refers to the fact that you'll always find them keeping watch over a dead body. Wake is descended from old Norse waka, meaning vigil
It's interesting to note that turkey vultures don't actually kill their prey - unlike other kinds of vultures, they rarely even kill off weak and vulnerable members of a herd - although they do share in the spoils when their buddies the black vultures do. They're creepy because they're heralds of death, but they don't bring on the death themselves. If anything, they're just being eco-friendly.
Cleveland's iconic radio station, WMMS The Buzzard, by the way, is not named for the city of Hinckley's mascot. The station adopted the buzzard in 1974, in reference to the city's disastrous economy. I once heard a Cleveland journalist argue that Cleveland would probably suck less if Clevelanders talked less about how much the city sucks. What do you do about a city that centers its identity around self-deprecation?  

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Man, why is everyone so hard on Pennywise?