Gruit Grus.

JC wrote me about Piotr Gąsiorowski’s paper “Gruit Grus: The Indo-European Names of the Crane,” saying “Cranes do indeed crane, but the Latin verb means to cry out like a crane.” Here’s the abstract:

The purpose of this article is to show that the variety and irregularity of the Indo-European ‘crane’ words is apparent rather than actual, and that their derivational history is in fact quite simple. In brief, they can be reduced to only a couple of related PIE lexemes, rather than a whole constellation of “dialectal” forms.

As you would expect from Piotr, it’s careful and thoroughgoing, and for what it’s worth I find it convincing. I especially like the modesty of passages like this:

The purpose of this section is to point out that Arm. kṙownk is a possible direct cognate of the ‘crane’ term found in Balto-Slavic and Latin. The relative insecurity of some aspects of reconstructible Proto-Armenian makes it impossible to clarify every detail, so the proposed derivation must be regarded as tentative. A large dose of scepticism is recommended in such cases, especially when the words we attempt to etymologise come dangerously close to being cross-linguistic onomatopoeias.

Thanks, John, and a shanah tovah to all my Jewish readers!


  1. David Marjanović says

    I read it soon after it was posted (and probably twice or so since then), and recommend it. 🙂

  2. David Eddyshaw says

    I like the suggestion that the Welsh bardd “bard” might be related (though unfortunately PG thinks this is more likely to be a case of distinct homophonous PIE roots falling together.) Yer actual Welsh garan “crane” is too obviously boringly cognate to all the other words.

    Interesting stuff about traces of PIE accent in Italic:

  3. David Marjanović says

    That paper is not on Brent Vine’s Academia page, but this later paper with a short review and some more accent traces is.

  4. January First-of-May says

    Cranes (among other things) in various languages previously on LH.

    (I know that thread isn’t very relevant, but it was approximately the first thing I thought of regarding multilingual cranes. Unfortunately AFAICT it never discusses the etymology of the word – only the mythology.)

  5. Capra Internetensis says

    Now I want to learn about satirizing one’s opponents from crane stance. Perhaps this is taught in advanced Llap Goch.

  6. I know that thread isn’t very relevant …

    Au contraire, JFM. “A Draft of Mandelstam” graces the Hat Hall of Fame and is relevant to everything. Well to draw it to the attention of those in this newer generation who may have missed it.

  7. David Eddyshaw says

    Now I want to learn about satirizing one’s opponents from crane stance. Perhaps this is taught in advanced Llap Goch.

    I’m doing it at at this very moment.

  8. Just had a look at ‘gruo’ in Lewis and Short and was pleased to discover the excellent words ‘crunk’ and ‘crunkle’ for the noises that cranes make. Never heard them before, but I will certainly be trying to work them into the odd conversation in the future.

  9. Good luck, maybe you can get the OED to reverse its verdict in marking crunk and crunkle obsolete. All of their citations are from dictionaries and a Latin translation from no later than 1617; I’d think they’d be aware of Lewis & Short (1879), but perhaps not, and perhaps it shouldn’t count because L&S were evidently copying from previous Latin dictionaries. (Johnson also lists these words, but labeled “Dict.”, i.e., found only in dictionaries.)

    But wait! Hathitrust turns up a poem from 1916 by Eden Phillpotts:

    Crunk ! Crunk ! said the carrion crow ;
    You know what you know and I know what I know.
    And the things what you know ain’t no very great odds ;
    But the things that I know be a dish for the gods.

    For what’s the whole boilin’ of secrets you hold
    To a hoss that I’ve found, as be just growing cold?
    This morn he was living; to-night he’s gone dead,
    And he heaved his last sigh while I sat on his head.

    But though you’m so terrible witty and wise
    ’Tis me and not you that will peck out his eyes.
    Crunk ! Crunk ! said the carrion crow ;
    You can keep what you know, and I’ll keep what I know.

    Also, the English Dialect Dictionary has crunk cross-referenced to cronk ‘To croak, make the harsh note of a raven or a frog’; and the OED does have cronk, n. ‘dialect. The croak of a raven; = crunk n.1; in U.S. applied to the cry of the wild-goose.’ So maybe reports of its death are greatly exaggerated, or only temporary. More study needed on whether cronk/crunk represents a dialect difference among ravens, frogs, crows, geese, and cranes.

  10. David Eddyshaw says

    maybe you can get the OED to reverse its verdict

    Together, we can harness the awesome power of the Hattery and achieve this, Comrades!

    Crunk! Crunk!

  11. >a dialect difference among ravens, frogs, crows, geese, and cranes.
    I don’t think crane calls sound much at all like crunk/cronk. I have a lot of experience with sandhill cranes, having led dozens of trips to see a migratory stopover for 5-15,000 of them. No experience of Eurasian cranes, but listening online, they also seem to chortle. “Gruo” seems onomatopoeic. But there’s no stop at the end of their calls. It would have to end in a vowel or a liquid.

  12. We say that geese “honk” and dogs “bark”; do their sounds have any more of a stop at the end than cranes’ do?

    Who knows how much Lewis and Short* knew about what cranes sounded like, but in any case they were clearly copying crunk from previous English-Latin dictionaries. Their dictionary was based on an 1850 English translation of a Latin-German dictionary, which was in turn based on previous Latin-German and Latin-Italian dictionaries, but those gave explanations rather than onomatopoeic words: “Naturlaut des Kranichs”; “druckt den Ton der Kraniche aus”; “far voce di gru”. The purported English words crunk, crunkle were added by the 1850 translator, and I’ll bet he was copying them out of the same even older dictionaries that the OED cites. These words seem to have barely existed in English (at least, as far as printed books go): Johnson knew them only from dictionaries, Webster in 1828 labeled them “[Not used]”, the OED (1893) couldn’t find any non-dictionary/translation uses. Even now with the internet’s help, I’ve only been able to scrape up three in the history of English:

    The voice in nightingals is called singing, croking in crowes, calling in partridges, gagleing in geese, groaning in pigeons and turtles, crowing in cocks, chackling and clucking in henns, crunkling in cranes, quacking in ducks, cherping in sparrows, chattering in pies, and hooting in owles, &c. —Panzooryktologia. Sive Panzoologicomineralogia. Or A compleat history of animals and minerals (1661)

    The crunking crane heard high amongst the clouds —poem “The Country Man” (1700s)

    That sent from her tall roost the crunking crane —poem “Theodora” (1872)

    That’s quite marginal. Also, Liddell and Scott gloss the Greek γερανίζω as ‘utter the crane’s note’, rather than ‘crunk’: so it was known only to scholars of Latin, not Greek! Given the lack of use of the word, I would’ve thought that the 1968 Oxford Latin Dictionary (which was supposed to have started fresh from scratch) would drop it — yet even its 2012 second edition still defines gruō as ‘(of a crane) To utter its natural cry, crunkle.’ That looks suspiciously like paying more attention to previous dictionaries than to current English.

    *On looking them up, I was surprised to find that Lewis and Short were both American—I’d naively assumed they were Oxford dons like Liddell and Scott. Their dictionary was originally done for Harpers in New York, and only picked up by Oxford University Press when their own Latin dictionary project failed.

  13. January First-of-May says

    What cranes sound like, previously on LH: Avar, Old Chinese.

    Incidentally, TIL (again) that pedigree < Anglo-Norman pé de grue “foot of a crane”. Apparently genealogical trees were thought to resemble crane footprints.

  14. >We say that geese “honk” and dogs “bark”; do their sounds have any more of a stop at the end than cranes’ do

    Honk is a passable rendition of the call of a Canada goose. Bark is a verb that has evolved, but certainly words like arf and woof are onomatopoeic.

    I suspect that crunking cranes were misidentified herons, which do in fact crunk. Well, I’d probably say they cronk, but…

  15. Incidentally, I would like to point out that “shana tova”, a literal translation of “good year”, has never been used in the Yiddish-speaking Ashkenazi world (I do not comment on the Sephardic-Eastern world but I think it’s a Israeli coinage on the Yiddish “gut yor”). The formal Hebrew formula is “leshono tovo tikoseyvu” (standard Ashkenazi pronunciation): on the occasion of the new year, be registered. More generally, wishes were, and still are frequently, wished in Yiddish: “a gut yor/a gut gebentsht (blessed) yor”/ etc (in my original “dialect”: a git yur) or “a gut yontev”, the form required for all religious holidays of significant status Literally : good day but in yiddish : good religious holiday (it would be yom-tov in Israeli pronunciation).

  16. And yet Bloix, who clearly knows what he’s talking about, writes “Shana Tova, everyone, and a gut yor.” I’m well aware of “leshono tovo tikoseyvu” and have used it in speech on appropriate occasions, but I don’t think wishing a shanah tovah to Jewish readers is bad form.

  17. I heard a strange noise above my building yesterday, which I thought sounded like an American Crow (caw-caw, Corvus brachyrhynchos), but Gale didn’t think we had crows in NYC. Turns out we do; they were almost extirpated by West Nile virus, but according to a 2016 NYT article, they had returned, nesting on water towers and other high places. A quick check confirmed that there are still more of them by now, including in Chelsea, an adjacent neighborhood to mine. The American Crow is the ecological analogue of the Eurasian/Palearctic Carrion Crow (Corvus corone), although it is physically more gracile and has a less vigorous caw.

    What is more, we also have Fish Crows (uh-uh, Corvus ossifragus), which weren’t much affected by West Nile but tend to stay at the shoreline, and more to the point, Common Ravens (Corvus corax), whose official cry (per the Cornell Ornithology Lab) is cr-r-ruck. Cranes or crows?

    (The Romans, it is said, called the crow the bird of hope, because it says Cras, cras ‘tomorrow, tomorrow’.)

  18. maybe you can get the OED to reverse its verdict in marking crunk and crunkle obsolete.

    With some help from Lil Jon and Duke Deuce.

  19. I did not say that “wishing a shanah tovah to Jewish readers is bad form”. I just wanted to raise some points. It’s certainly not “inappropriate” because it’s now and since many years the standard pan-Jewish form of wishing (even if for my part, I do not use it).

  20. Thanks for clarifying!

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