Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Known by Their Tails

This past weekend, I had opened Liddell and Scott to see what the Greek word "ailouros" (αἴλουρος) might mean. I was satisfied to learn that it means "cat," and delighted to read the codicil "so called from the wavy motion of the tail". Curiously, neither of the versions of the lexicon available on-line at Tufts gives the etymology. Was it a rash conjecture since discarded, or did the those who put the lexicons on-line wish to save typing?

I had read in Thoreau that the name "squirrel" derives from "skia oura", "shadow tail", and here the versions at Tufts bear him out:
σκίουρος [ι^], , οὐρά) prop.
A.shadow-tail, i.e. squirrel, Opp.C.2.586; cf. Plin.HN8.138.
The on-line versions do not note what the paper version does, that the squirrel is also "kampsiouros" as having a bending tail, and "hippouros" as having a tail that reminded someone of a horse's. The latter distinction it shares with a fish and an insect.

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