Zoo #43 – Ptarmigan

A ptarmigan is a bigger partridge
(Though hunters use the same size cartridge)
A little larger than a grouse,
Substantially smaller than a house.
Its fate is often Christmas fare –
It tastes a little like a hare.
Ptarmigans come with a silent ‘P’,
Like toddlers swimming in the sea.

The Ptarmigan is classed as a ‘game bird’ e.g. it has obviously been placed on earth with the simple function of giving the ruling classes something to point their guns at when they’re not starting wars.  It is the ultimate arrogance of man that everything else on this planet has been placed here solely for our benefit and such things that clearly do not fit this criteria, probably need to be eradicated.  Weirdly, the creatures we protect the best are those that we eat.

N.B. the bird was originally known by its Gaelic name ‘Tàrmachan’ until a man called Robert Sibbald (Psibbald?) thought that it would look far more classy if it appeared to have a genus name of Greek origin, so he stuck a silent ‘p’ at the front.  I’ve always been intrigued by silent letters.  How did they get there?  I know (that is, I have been told, and I am trusting enough to believe) that some of them were originally pronounced – e.g. both the ‘k’ and the ‘g’ in the word ‘knight’ were originally spoken – but I cannot begin to imagine how ‘igh’ ended up in so many words.  Some kind of lexicographical aberration.  I’m sure the Greeks would have a word for it…

14 thoughts on “Zoo #43 – Ptarmigan

  1. Nice line about ps in the sea. Boys will be be pissy little boys. Beware of warm currents when swimming in their vicinity. And I believe the Greek word for silent letters is ‘Ppretentious.’ The first p being-

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  2. I got distracted by your saying, “…both the ‘k’ and the ‘g’ in the word ‘knight’ were originally spoken…” into thinking about the French taunting King Arthur from the castle wall, “You and your silly English K-niggg-Itts…”

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