A
 
Web www.artsmart.co.za
A R T S M A R T
arts news from kwazulu-natal

literature
www.artsmart.co.za
enquiries@artsmart.co.za
 A current news
crafts - dance - drama - film & tv - literature
music - supper theatre - visual arts
miscellaneous news - festivals
letters to the editor
home page
archives A
crafts - dance - drama - film & tv - literature
music - supper theatre - visual arts
miscellaneous news - festivals
 

NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

CONTEXTUALLY YOURS (article first published : 2003-09-3)

In our last column we talked about two dogs with geographical associations to their names, the Alsatian and the Dalmatian. There are, of course, many others. Two that come to mind are the Labrador Retriever and the Newfoundland dog, whose names associate them with eastern Canada. The Labrador in particular has deservedly become immensely popular, both as a sporting dog and as a family pet. Several dogs have names associated with the pet-crazed British Isles – the Old English Sheepdog, Scottish, Welsh and Irish Terriers, not to mention West Highland and Skye Terriers.

Many dogs, like our Alsatian and Dalmatian, retain older geographical names which no longer have much political significance. The Pomeranian Spitz or “Pom”, for example, is named after a region overlapping the German/Polish border north-east of Berlin. Other dog-names refer to a single town, such as the Pekinese, perpetuating one of the old spellings of what is now usually called Beijing, and the Lhasa Apso, named after Lhasa, the capital of Tibet. According to The Chambers Dictionary, crossing these two breeds produces a handsome dog called a Shih Tzu (pronounced, for the record, SHEE DZU.)

Dogs don’t have it all their own way, of course. There are several regional cats; the Persian, Siamese and Burmese preserve the old names for Iran, Thailand and Myanmar, for example; and the Angora rabbit retains the old spelling of Turkey’s capital, Ankara.

But enough of domestic pets for the time being, and out into the farmyard. Here we have the curious case of “cattle”, a noun which has no real singular form. It is possible to name one bovine animal in terms of its gender, as a cow or a bull or, if it’s young enough, as a calf, which can be either male or female. But a single member of a herd of cattle presents a bit of a problem.

One perfectly correct solution is to call it an ox, which Chambers defines as “a general name for the male or female of domestic cattle.” But it goes on to add “espa castrated male of the species”, and that’s just the trouble: for most of us that is the only true meaning of ox, and we feel that calling a cow an ox makes us look stupid.

Another possibility, now described by Chambers as “archaic or dialect”, is the word “neat”, a good old Anglo-Saxon term that was still in common use in Shakespeare’s time. Gratiano, one of the young gentlemen in The Merchant of Venice, remarks “…silence is only commendable/In a neat’s tongue dried, and a maid not vendible,” and presumably he expected to be understood. The word now survives mainly in the expression “neat’s-foot oil”, which is, obviously, made from the feet of oxen; it is used, among other things, to keep baseball catchers’ mitts in good shape. I have recently read Stephen King’s moving novel of the 60’s, Hearts in Atlantis, in which he speaks of the powerfully nostalgic aroma of neat’s-foot oil in an old baseball glove, so perhaps “neat” will live on in this guise in the United States for a while yet.

It seems unlikely, however, that it will recover as a general term for one of the cattle herd, so there is no easy end to our quest for such a word. We are now so urbanised that it is not likely to trouble most of us, but it is an entertaining little problem nevertheless, without a satisfactory solution.

Contextually Yours, Ulysses Online.




 A current news
crafts - dance - drama - film & tv - literature
music - supper theatre - visual arts
miscellaneous news - festivals
letters to the editor
home page
archives A
crafts - dance - drama - film & tv - literature
music - supper theatre - visual arts
miscellaneous news - festivals
a co-production by caroline smart services and .durbanet. site credits
copyright © subsists in this page. all rights reserved. [ edit ] copyright details  artsmart