Why is a swallow called a swallow?

Frye, David dfrye at umich.edu
Tue Sep 11 20:31:10 UTC 2007



The OED shows no connection between the verb/action "swallow" and the bird "swallow" in English. Both words go back to Old English, when the bird was "swealwe",  "swalwe," "swalu," etc; the verb was "swelghan", "swilhdh", "swealgh", etc. (with many more forms in the various conjugations, notably the ppl. "forswoleghed"), and the related noun (now meaning "a gulp" but originally meaning "a pit") was "swelh" and variations. Note the different vowels in the first syllable, which (not knowing an iota about Old English) I must assume is relevent to concluding that these clouds of words are different. 


The OED helpfully notes:  "The encroachment of the o of the pa. pple. and the a of the pa. tense upon the pres. stem is evidenced from the 12th and 13th centuries respectively; it was perhaps furthered by association with SWALLOW n.1 [=the bird]."




From: nahuatl-bounces at lists.famsi.org [mailto:nahuatl-bounces at lists.famsi.org] On Behalf Of John Sullivan, Ph.D.
Sent: Tuesday, September 11, 2007 3:45 PM
To: nahuatl at lists.famsi.org
Subject: [Nahuat-l] Why is a swallow called a swallow?


Bien Listeros,

            That's the question I have: Why is a swallow (the bird) called a swallow? 

            In Classical Nahuatl, "swallow" is "cui:cui:tzcatl". The plural form, given by Fran, is "cui:cui:tzcanih", suggesting a verbal origin for the word. I would say either "cui:cui:tzihui" or "cui:cui:tzoa", because their preterite forms, "cui:cui:tziuh" and "cui:cui:tzoh" would have the option of shortening to "cui:cui:tz" when combining with something else, such as the preterite agentive "-qui/-ca-". 

            The reason is wrote this mail is that there is a verb in Huastecan Nahuatl, "cui:tzoa, nimo" which means "to have something stuck in your throat". There is a related verb "cui:tzihui", which is only used with "tlan(tli)", "tooth". "tlancui:tzihui, ni.", means "the bare or show your teeth". 

            So anyway, why is a swallow called a swallow?



John Sullivan, Ph.D.

Profesor de lengua y cultura nahua

Universidad Autónoma de Zacatecas

Instituto de Docencia e Investigación Etnológica de Zacatecas, A.C.

Tacuba 152, int. 47

Centro Histórico

Zacatecas, Zac. 98000


Oficina: +52 (492) 925-3415

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idiez at mac.com



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