What’s a Woggin?

Cara Giaimo has a fascinating investigation of a whaling mystery in Atlas Obscura:

On December 20, 1792, the whaling ship Asia was making its way through the Desolation Islands, in the Indian Ocean, when the crew decided to stop for lunch. According to the log keeper, the meal was a great success: “At 1 PM Sent our Boat on Shore After Some refreshments,” he wrote. “She returned with A Plenty of Woggins we Cooked Some for Supper.”

Right about now, you may be feeling peckish. But you may also be wondering: What in the world is a woggin?

New species are discovered all the time. Unknown old species—extinct ones, found as fossils and then plugged into our historical understanding of the world—turn up a lot, too. But every once in a while, all we have to go on is a word. New or old, known or unknown, no one knew what a woggin was until Judith Lund, whaling historian, decided to find out.

I won’t tell you the solution, because getting there is half the fun, but rest assured the mystery is solved. (I presume the answer will be discussed in the comment thread, though.) Thanks, Trevor!

Comments

  1. Mere lines later, sealers from 1869 are showing off “a bag full of woggins’ hearts, which we can roast on sticks, and who doubts that we shall make a heart-y supper?”

    People say Moby Dick is the book that has everything, but I don’t recall it having any puns of this caliber.

  2. That was a fun article — thanks for mentioning it!

    The quote about “wogings in vast numbers & noisy with their shril sharp shreaking or howling in the dead hours of the night” sounds almost Lovecraftian.

    @Matt:
    Yes, that’s a pretty offal pun.

  3. David Marjanović says:

    “The woggins live again.”

    If only.

  4. Trond Engen says:

    I think the whole story took an awkward turn towards the end.

  5. Trond Engen says:

    Another name for the garfowl was penguin. It appears that even that name was reused for a southern flightless bird.

  6. If you want to see a couple of stuffed great auks, they have them at the Harvard Museum of Natural History. They also have the skeleton of a Stellar’s sea cow, another northern species that sailors of the same era devoured to extinction.

    Some of the collections at the Harvard museum are amazing (the glass flowers, the minerals, some of the zoological specimens), but many aspects of the place were neglected for a long time. They are gradually renovating to make the place better.

  7. Trond Engen says:

    Could wogg- be ‘wag’ “move rhythmically”? Norwegian ‘vagge’ means “walk with short steps and a swaying motion”. Like (southern) penguins. Is there a seafaring regional dialect where the trap wovel sounds like o after a w-? And is there a pattern in fowl words being derived with a suffix -Vn? I mention in abundance: Puffin. Also wigeon.

  8. wogings in vast numbers

    Teke-li-li! Teke-li-li!

  9. She returned with A Plenty of Shoggoth we Cooked Some for Supper.

  10. Here is one wog; now there are none of them; there are no ____ left.

  11. Richard Hershberger says:

    At best tangentially related, but I wrote a piece about a shipwreck on the island two hundred miles away from Desolation Island, and which makes it look downright metropolitan in comparison. It does involve eating penguins, but I don’t recall seeing them called “woggins” in any of the accounts: http://ordinary-gentlemen.com/2016/01/20/the-shipwreck-and-eventual-rescue-of-the-crew-of-the-bark-trinity/

  12. Anyone know what sort of name O’Pecko is? It doesn’t seem Irish in spite of the O’ and I can’t think of a name it could be a spelling variant of.

  13. David Marjanović says:

    Norwegian ‘vagge’ means “walk with short steps and a swaying motion”.

    There’s also a fitting German verb wackeln, historically a frequentative (-l-) built on top of the ancient iterative (PGmc. consonant length), whose wide range of meanings encompasses plenty that fit here… oh, it turns out there is an English verb waggle.

  14. Trond Engen says:

    The suffix -Vn might be the diminutive we know from chicken and kitten. Though I’ll admit that works better for the puffin than for the great auk.

  15. @Trond Engen

    Another name for the garfowl was penguin. It appears that even that name was reused for a southern flightless bird.

    In French, pingouin is (officially, at least) used for two members of the auk family: the Great Auk and the Razorbill. Others are known variously as merges, guillemots, stariques, and macareux. The penguins (the ones found in the Southern hemisphere) are known as manchots. But the French seem to be having difficulty maintaining their usage against the encroachment of English.

    The French Wikipedia entry for Pingouin has a rather long section on the etymology of pingouin. As it points out, ‘penguin’ in English was originally used for the Great Auk and not for the penguins:

    L’étymologie du mot « pingouin » est incertaine.

    Le terme n’est attesté en français qu’en 1598, pour la première fois, sous la forme pinguyn (Lodewijcksz, Premier livre, fo4 rods Arv., p.410). Il s’agit d’un terme issu du néerlandais, le français ayant effectivement pris de nombreux termes au néerlandais à partir de cette époque, notamment du vocabulaire relatif à la faune et aux techniques maritimes. Il aurait été introduit plus spécifiquement par le biais des livres de voyage hollandais. Le même terme a été également emprunté par l’allemand à la même époque sous la forme pinguin et est attesté en anglais également au xvie siècle sous la forme penguin et désignant au départ le Grand Pingouin et non les manchots comme aujourd’hui.

    L’origine du terme néerlandais est obscure. Le dictionnaire étymologique de l’afrikaans, Etimologiewoordenboek van Afrikaans, prétend que le mot a été emprunté au portugais.

    Selon une théorie, présentée par John Latham en 1785, le mot serait issu du latin pinguis qui signifie « graisse », un qualificatif soulignant l’aspect dodu de l’animal. Toujours dans l’hypothèse d’une origine latine, on peut signaler que pinguis signifie aussi : « qui rend gras », et par suite « fertile, fertilisant », puis « riche » ; et par extension de sens « lent, lourd, stupide, malhabile » qui caractérise celui qui est (trop) gras. Ce mot pourrait donc être, mieux que dodu, à l’origine du nom de cet oiseau pataud à la démarche pesante et embarrassée. Cependant, ces explications nécessitent de supposer une altération de pinguis en pinguin (ou penguin) et on voit mal pourquoi un [n] se serait substitué au [s] d’origine.

    Selon Martin Martin, le terme néerlandais (ou anglais) serait issu du gallois pen gwyn qui signifie « tête blanche ». Dans cette perspective, le nom se serait d’abord appliqué au Grand Pingouin qui présente effectivement une tache blanche remarquable devant l’œil, avant de s’étendre aux autres espèces par analogie.

    Seule la dernière explication conserve la faveur de certains dictionnaires étymologiques contemporains des différentes langues, l’hypothèse d’une origine latine n’étant même pas évoquée.

  16. David Marjanović says:

    Selon Martin Martin, le terme néerlandais (ou anglais) serait issu du gallois pen gwyn qui signifie « tête blanche ». Dans cette perspective, le nom se serait d’abord appliqué au Grand Pingouin qui présente effectivement une tache blanche remarquable devant l’œil, avant de s’étendre aux autres espèces par analogie.

    There’s also the idea that the original pen gwyn was a cape covered in guano.

  17. Trond Engen says:

    Bathrobe (channeling fr.wikipedia): Cependant, ces explications nécessitent de supposer une altération de pinguis en pinguin (ou penguin) et on voit mal pourquoi un [n] se serait substitué au [s] d’origine.

    Why not a derivation pinguinus < pinguis? The case ending would disappear in delatinisation. It’s too early for the Linnaeans but cartographers did latinisation too. It could be a translation of something else and probably Northern European, presumably a name refering to its layer of blubber, but I haven’t been able to find a suiting origin.

    David M.: There’s also the idea that the original pen gwyn was a cape covered in guano.

    On Funk Island, Newfoundland. I like that. And pinguinus as a folk-latinisation of Pen gwyn.

    (I asked Etymonline for the etymology of guano, but it’s Quechua.)

  18. Are there any other examples of Welsh loanwords in a similar context? Otherwise, it looks like a fortuitous similarity.

  19. Just on an off chance, pace Y, could woggin be a variant within Welsh? Not ‘white head,’ but ‘white something-else’?

  20. There is also puffin (origin unclear, per OED, which weakly speculates on a Cornish origin,) as well as limpkin and dunlin (shorebirds both, with descriptive+diminutive etymologies.) These all sound Libermanian.

  21. David Marjanović says:

    Are there any other examples of Welsh loanwords in a similar context?

    Could be Breton: pen gwen > pingouin…

    And pinguinus as a folk-latinisation of Pen gwyn.

    See also Alligator mississippiensis, who doesn’t tie anything together, but is el lagarto, “the lizard”…

  22. It could be Breton as easily as Welsh, and there were Breton fishermen in the North Atlantic.
    All three proposed Brythonic etymologies for English seabird names — penguin, puffin, gull — are uncertain, from what I have read.

  23. marie-lucie says:

    le pingouin

    I have long been familiar with the Celtic (Breton or Welsh) etymology of this word.

    I find a derivation from Latin pinguis very unlikely. Latin gw lost its labialization fairly early and could not have been replaced by a French sequence gou. A hypothetical derivative pinguinus would have become French *pinguin (with gu representing plain [g] before the front vowel [i]), not pingouin.

    The Wikipedia.fr article quoted above (Bathrobe via Trond) hypothesizes (and rightly rejects) pinguis > pinguin-us as it would require s > n: but since -is is a declensional ending, it would be removed before adding the derivational suffix -in-, itself followed by the declensional ending -us.

    le manchot : This refers to a subspecies of penguins rather than a synonym for the generic word. The average French speaker is rarely able to make a distinction.

    As a part of everyday vocabulary, this word means ‘one-armed, having lost one arm’. It derives from la manche ‘sleeve’, the empty sleeve of the sufferer. Penguins have very short wings, unfit for flying or catching.

  24. Moreover, who would be the Latin speakers who first encountered and named the auk?

  25. Trond Engen says:

    As I tried to say there, I don’t think the name would have been coined by Latin speakers and inherited into Modern French. If pingouin is from Latin, it would have to be a modern — scholarly or folk-scholarly — latinism, presumably either a translation of some native word or a rendition into Latin of pen gwyn. I have no idea if pinguis was still in use in School Latin in the 16th century.

    (For an example of misconceptions spread through 16th century cartography, I give you Copenhagen with a g.)

  26. Trond Engen says:

    marie-lucie: It dawned on me that your point is that French has -goui-, while -gui- would be expected in a latinism. That’s interesting, and I think it suggests that the word entered French first of the main European languages, or independently of the others.

  27. Copenhagen with a g

    I just Wikipedia’d Copenhagen in the major languages. In Icelandic it’s Kaupmannahöfn. Wow, Icelandic is really a time wrap.

  28. Copenhagen with a g

    Then there’s the Italian seaport Leghorn, which was not a mainstay of the international trade in chickens.

  29. I have always wondered where that g comes from. Wikipedia refers to Low German, but I’m sure hagen means garden, not harbour.

    Of course Danish did lenite the common Germanic /g/ to /v/ already in the 14th century, at least in this word, so confusion between /have/ and /havn/ could conceivably have led a cartographer to select the wrong equivalent in Low German.

  30. The Russians, of course, say Kopengagen.

  31. That makes me wonder when, say, “sagn” (myth, legend) and “savn” (loss, need) merged in Standard (and other dialects of) Danish (In Standard it’s [sɑʊ̯ˀn]). I think it’s a fairly recent merger. I had this quick idea that maybe “Copenhagen” is based on a misspelling “Københagn”, but realize it’s not very likely.

  32. If we had kept its proper English name, it would be Cheapmanhaven today, with accompanying stereotypes about penny-pinching Danes.

  33. I think my grandmother distinguished them, though she died in ’84 so I’m not sure I remember correctly. But the Ordbog over det danske Sprog has the distinction too, its pronunciations are supposed to reflect the period around 1906 when the first volume was published.

    But, quite apart from the much earlier attestation of Kopenhagen in Low German, I don’t think that’s a likely misspelling — words with orthographic <vn> are much more common, so the error would go the other way.

  34. @John Cowan,

    In some sense, I guess it would be Cheapmenshaven (Cheap Men’s Haven), since as I understand it, “mannæ” in the original Danish Køpmannæhafn is the plural genitive. The Icelandic Kaupmannahöfn seems to hold on to the plural genitive too.

    I’m a bit unsure about the definiteness. Wikipedia tells me that Køpmannæhafn meant “THE merchants’ harbor”, but I’m not sure if that’s an error. At least “manna” in icelandic seems to be indefinite plural genitive. I don’t have any Old Danish references, so I can’t check if “mannæ” is definite or indefinite, or whether that distinction was even relevant in Old Danish. Help, linguists!

    @Lars:

    My grandmother from Sønderjylland definitely distinguished them too, but I thought it was possible that the merger was old in Standard Danish, although probably not that old.

    > words with orthographic are much more common, so the error would go the other way.

    Yes, agreed. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anybody misspell København that way. I admit it was an unlikely theory.

  35. Sønderjylland is another story — my former brother-in-law is from there and pronounces his surname Kragh as [kʰʁɑ̙x] (Standard [kʰʁɑʊ̯]). Yes, final devoicing. (I don’t notice other velar fricatives in his speech, but he’s lived in Copenhagen for many years now).

    Proper names are generally indefinite in form and definite in denotation (not only in Danish) so when explaining the meaning of Copenhagen by a phrase you need to add the definite article.

  36. In some sense, I guess it would be Cheapmenshaven (Cheap Men’s Haven)

    No, that doesn’t work in English. Because the possessive marker is a clitic, not an ending, it can’t appear in the middle of an otherwise normal compound (excluding things like Queen Anne’s lace, where a whole phrase has become a single word meaning ‘Daucus carota‘). So Cheapmanhaven or Cheapmenhaven, as you will: they would be pronounced the same way anyhow. I suppose if you scour the list of ancient placenames, you may find counterexamples.

    My Sprachgefühl still prefers -man-, as plural markers on modifiers are pretty unusual in Modern English: an eater of rats is a rat eater, no matter how many rats it eats. Enemies list is one of the few examples of a plural modifier, because it is a list made up of individual enemies identified by name (vel sim.), whereas enemy list probably is not: it might be a list of what it takes to be my enemy, or perhaps a list of what I’m going to do to my enemies.

  37. David Marjanović says:

    No, that doesn’t work in English.

    Convergently, it doesn’t work in German either: in the plural (*Kaufmännerhafen), the distinction between nominative and genitive has been wholly outsourced to the article, and in the singular (*Kaufmannshafen), you get connecting elements (would be -s- in this case) that are historically descended from genitive endings, whether or not a genitive meaning makes sense (and largely unconnected to which genitive ending the word in question actually takes).

    (BTW, Hafen is a Low German loanword; Middle High German still had the somewhat confusing haben.)

  38. es hat haben gehabt

  39. Trond Engen says:

    Chapmanshaven.

    I think the theory is that <g> was misapplied by the Dutch cartographers for Danish /w/, being aware of (Jutlandic at the time?) /w/ < /g/ but not of (Shellandic?) /g/ > /j/.

    Related: Even though the court was in Copenhaven, Danish wasn’t consistently spelled the Shellandic way. Some words with inherited /j/ came to be written with hypercorrect <g>, a g that is commonly pronounced in Norwegian today: Selge < selja “sell”, velge < velja “choose”, ferge < ferja “ferry”, dølge < dylja “hide”. (‘Selge’ is more commonly pronounced as if written ‘selle’, but that’s silent g, not silent j.)

  40. Trond Engen says:

    Or Chapmanhaven.

  41. Because the possessive marker is a clitic, not an ending, it can’t appear in the middle of an otherwise normal compound

    “Craftsman”? “Doomsday”? “Kingsport”?

  42. David Marjanović says:

    es hat haben gehabt

    Genau.

  43. >the possessive marker […] can’t appear in the middle of an otherwise normal compound
    >plural markers on modifiers are pretty unusual

    Actually, these rules work a lot better for Danish, where I suspect the exceptions are a closed group (børne- is the only one that comes to mind), than in English, where I see exceptions all over the place.

    >“Craftsman”? “Doomsday”?
    > Enemies list

    Exactly

    >“Kingsport”?

    Oh, you mean like hunting and horseracing? 🙂

    >excluding things like Queen Anne’s lace, where a whole phrase has become a single word

    … which is what happened for København, or did I miss something?

  44. Well, of course existing compounds that are older than the inflection > clitic transition are grandfathered. But here we are dealing with a hypothetical compound that isn’t known (yet).

  45. @dainichi, there are several other words that take specific plural markers in compounds, like mødre-, fædre-, hønse-, when the meaning is in fact plural. Mødrehjælp, moderkærlighed

    But generally there is a ‘linking’ <s> or <e> in compounds which come from old singular and plural genetive markers but are now I think selected for euphony with those words that can take both: mandsmod, mandehjerte. (Most words only have <s> available).

  46. @Lars

    >mødre-, fædre-, hønse-,

    Ah, yes, I missed those, thanks. But my claim that it’s a closed group still stands.

    >‘linking’ s or e

    Yes, I considered mentioning those. For most words the use is determined by the preceding noun, but for those that have a choice (land-mand lande-plage lands-hold), it’s not pure euphony. For example, lande- and lands- seem to be for the nation/country meaning, whereas land- is for farming/countryside/land as opposed to sea. Compare landgrænse (border on land) to landegrænse (country border). Of course, one might argue those two “land”s can be analyzed as different lexemes.

  47. There is certainly a difference in that the ‘land’ sense is non-count, but I don’t think that would have made any difference to gender or declension in Old Danish that could explain the different bound forms.

    It may be that compounds with non-count nouns selected a different case, but I can’t check that — the four-volume history of the Danish language that I got myself for Christmas is 700 kilometers away right now.

    None the less a quick mental survey of a few examples does tend to confirm that linking <s> or <e> is rare for non-count nouns.

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