Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Don't Eat That, Elmer, That's Horse [Finch]!

There's been some controversy about a free distribution of On the Origin of Species with a "special" introduction; in any case, I gladly note the existence of a counterpoint group, "Don't Diss Darwin," with the tongue–in–cheek motto "noli fringillidas edere!" I had to look up the middle word, which as it turns out is the scientific Latin term for the family of finches, of course. The Classical form on which it's based is fringilla, -ae which the OLD tells me means "a song-bird, perhaps the chaffinch," attested in Varro and Festus (usually a bad sign), and Martial in a form fringillus, cf. Greek φρυγίλος. This latter occurs once in Classical Greek—where else?—the Birds of Aristophanes, 763, where it gets trotted out for a pun with Φρὺξ.

For what it's worth, there was a Cistercian monastery of S. Angelo in Fringillis (or Frigido) founded in Calabria in 1220, as well as a Fringilla: some tales in verse of 1895 by
Richard Doddridge Blackmore (famous today for his novel Lorna Doone), with the doddgy lines quorsum haec? non potui qualem / Philomela querelam; sed / fringilla velut pipitabunda vagor adorning the frontispiece. The illustrations are passerable, but the verse, oh, the verse! The one snippet ought to be enough; the rest is available freely at Google Books:
God is with us ; He shall speed us ;
Or (if this vile crew impede us)
Let some light into their brain,
By the sword of Tubal Cain.
-Lita of the Nile, Part I, XII

All that said, Wikipedia informs me that Darwin's finches are now placed in the tanager family of Thraupidae rather than the true finch family, Fringillidae. θραυπίς occurs only in Aristotle History of Animals 592b30 and refers to a small bird. Such is the nature of scientific Latin. So noli fringillas edere, noli thraupidas edere, noli θραυπίδας edere, as you like.

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