Ants, Oats, Knees.

I’m halfway through Annihilation (thanks, bulbul!), and one of the pleasures of the book is discovering phrases hitherto unknown to me that are attractive as linguistic items and interesting as real-world phenomena; so far they’re all biological, because the narrator of the book is a biologist:

velvet ants

sea oats

cypress knees

Interestingly, a velvet ant is not an ant, a sea oat is not an oat, and a cypress knee is not a knee. Natural language is not transparent!

Addendum.
sugar glider

Comments

  1. SFReader says:

    How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?

  2. Interestingly, a velvet ant is not an ant, a sea oat is not an oat, and a cypress knee is not a knee.

    This reminds me of that bit on The Wire about how Baltimore lake trout is neither trout, nor from a lake – just like how New York egg creams contain neither eggs nor cream.

  3. I knew sea oats and cyprus knees because I’ve seen them. Velvet ants are new to me.
    The sea is a pretty good place to find things that are not what they are. Sea horses, of course. Sea urchins, sea anemones, sea cucumbers. Sea cows. And sea bees, of course.

  4. No water-babies, indeed? Why, wise men of old said that everything on earth had its double in the water; and you may see that that is, if not quite true, still quite as true as most other theories which you are likely to hear for many a day. There are land-babies—then why not water-babies? Are there not water-rats, water-flies, water-crickets, water-crabs, water-tortoises, water-scorpions, water-tigers and water-hogs, water-cats and water-dogs, sea-lions and sea-bears, sea-horses and sea-elephants, sea-mice and sea-urchins, sea-razors and sea-pens, sea-combs and sea-fans; and of plants, are there not water-grass, and water-crowfoot, water-milfoil, and so on, without end?

    —Charles KIngsley

  5. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    Hmm. Looking at the article about velvet ants, and particularly at the pictures, it must have been one of them that stung me on the big toe once while I was walking to work in sandals. Although I usually recover quite quickly from the pain of a sting of an ordinary wasp or bee this one was so painful and long-lasting the I spent most of the day with my foot in a bowl of cold water.

  6. I’ve heard of velvet ants, and I remember reading that they had a painful sting. But I just looked it up, and it says somewhere that on the Schmidt pain index they rate a mere 1.8, lower than hornets, yellow-jackets,or honeybees (all 2.0).

    Of course, I myself would have rated a hornet a good deal higher than a honeybee. And I suppose some velvet ants have a more painful sting than others.

    I don’t have the patience at the moment to remind myself how to insert a link; it’s been a while since I did. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schmidt_sting_pain_index

  7. More Kingsley:

    And she [Mrs. Bedonebyasyoudid, the spirit of justice] looked at the [water-]children one by one, and seemed very much pleased with them, though she never asked them one question about how they were behaving; and then began giving them all sorts of nice sea-things—sea-cakes, sea-apples, sea-oranges, sea-bullseyes, sea-toffee; and to the very best of all she gave sea-ices, made out of sea-cows’ cream, which never melt under water.

    And, if you don’t quite believe me, then just think—What is more cheap and plentiful than sea-rock? Then why should there not be sea-toffee as well? And every one can find sea-lemons (ready quartered too) if they will look for them at low tide; and sea-grapes too sometimes, hanging in bunches; and, if you will go to Nice, you will find the fish-market full of sea-fruit, which they call “frutta di mare:” though I suppose they call them “fruits de mer” now, out of compliment to that most successful, and therefore most immaculate, potentate [Napoleon III] who is seemingly desirous of inheriting the blessing pronounced on those who remove their neighbours’ land-mark [Deut. 19:14, 27:17]. And, perhaps, that is the very reason why the place is called Nice, because there are so many nice things in the sea there: at least, if it is not, it ought to be.

    So I read of cypress knees, and the now-doubted theory that they exist to provide extra oxygen to the roots, which are sitting in deoxygenated swampy water, and was led from there to mangroves, which actually do have upward extensions of their roots for that very purpose. And not only are mangroves a fine example of a paraphyletic group, and of convergent evolution to boot, but they have a fine etymology, from Portuguese mangue < Spanish mangle, and there apparently Guaraní in origin.

  8. David Marjanović says:

    How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?

    Woodchucks can, in fact, chuck wood. The experiment has been done and published in the Annals of Improbable Research: when they’re hungry enough, they chuck wood at about 1 cm³/h if I remember the number right.

    Of course, I myself would have rated a hornet a good deal higher than a honeybee. And I suppose some velvet ants have a more painful sting than others.

    Let me guess: the pain index was developed by the kind of doctor that tells you “it doesn’t hurt, it’s like a mosquito sting”.

    a paraphyletic group

    Polyphyletic. Paraphyletic means they have just one origin, but not all descendants of that last common ancestor are considered members of the group.

  9. Seine salmon …. used condoms ….

  10. Upon seeing the MP6 for the first time, Enrico Piaggio exclaimed: “Sembra una vespa!” (“It resembles a wasp!”) Piaggio effectively named his new scooter on the spot.

  11. David Eddyshaw says:

    Holy Roman Empire.

    “Ce corps qui s’appelait et qui s’appelle encore le saint empire romain n’était en aucune manière ni saint, ni romain, ni empire.”

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