Reading Jonathan Franzen’s annoyingly self-absorbed “My Bird Problem” in the latest New Yorker, one reason I kept going was the profusion of wonderful bird names: gadwall, veery, redstart, dunlin… Then I hit “parauque” (at the bottom of the middle column on page 66, if you’re following along at home) and thought I’d better look it up so I’d know whether to mentally pronounce it as if it were French or Spanish. Well, it wasn’t in any of my dictionaries, so of course I googled it, and was suprised to find only a few hundred hits—bird names shouldn’t be that rare. Following my usual practice with unfamiliar plants and animals, I googled the Linnean name, in this case Nyctidromus albicollis, and what do you know, every hit gave the English name as “pauraque.” So I googled that, and sure enough, there were over 15,000 hits, and when I looked it up in my massive Webster’s Third New International, there it was (pronounced \pauräkā\ in their transcription, like “pow RAH kay”). The New Yorker had allowed a misspelled word into their once famously perfect pages. Once again, the modern world had let me down.

I was a bit consoled, or at least distracted, when I followed the trail left by Webster’s laconic definition (pauraque n [MexSp] : CUIEJO) and looked up cuiejo. I was rewarded with this:

cuiejo \küyāhō\ n [modif. of AmerSp cuyeo] : a tropical American nighthawk (Nyctidromus albicollis) the dried and ground bones of which are highly esteemed in parts of its range as a love potion — called also pauraque

“Highly esteemed in parts of its range as a love potion”—why, it’s lexicographical poetry! And the endearingly awkward phrasing “the dried and ground bones of which,” contorted to avoid the perfectly good “whose dried and ground bones,” was the icing on the cake.

Later in the same paragraph Franzen mentions “my first northern beardless tyrannulet”; I liked “tyrannulet” very much but was unable to find it in any dictionaries: not Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate, not the big Webster’s, not the OED. And yet it’s an English word in good standing; not only does it get 20,000 Google hits (besides the northern beardless, this page lists dozens of others: Rufous-lored, Cinnamon-faced, Minas Gerais, Oustalet’s, Mottle-cheeked, Rough-legged, Greenish, Tawny-rumped…) [June 2020: the Wayback Machine has no record of that page, but this Wikipedia Category page has quite a few], it’s the subject of an Encyclopædia Britannica article. So why isn’t it in the dictionary, not even the OED? I’m mystified and annoyed; at least the pronunciation is clear, but what if it weren’t? I’d be lost in the sea of words without a compass!


  1. Reality is too prickly for your grand nature. (“Bottom”, A. Rimbaud).

  2. Dunno, dude. The OS X dictionary widget, which takes its results from The Oxford American Dictionary, produces an entry with little to no fuss nor muss.

  3. I’m glad it’s in somebody’s dictionary. But if the Oxford people are aware of it… well, I guess they just haven’t gotten around to the t’s in the revision of the OED.
    *drums fingers impatiently*

  4. Is “pauraque” etymologically related to the word for “fear”? Or is my bad Spanish misleading me again?

  5. Seems to be that the only name which appears in Diccionario de la Real Academia Española is:
    cuyeo:1. m. C. Rica. Pájaro de canto estridente.
    pauraque appears in The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2001-05. http://www.bartleby.com/65/go/goatsuck.html
    “…their monotonous, repetitious song are factors in their superstitious significance. Their weird cries are reflected in the common names for many of the species, e.g., whippoorwill, chuck-will’s-widow, poorwill, poor-me-one, potoo, and pauraque.”
    Another popular name for this bird is “curiango” ( if course its popularity is not reflected in dictionaries)
    pauraque’s etymology may be related with pavor, form latin pavoris, as italian paúra. Or just being an onomatopeic word.

  6. What a lovely coincidence. Last night as we were leaving the ballpark, my friends and I were discussing a Spanish word for hummingbird they’d learned from a native speaking co-worker: chotarosa. This means ‘rose sucker’. I couldn’t find this in any online dictionary, but it is a similar compound to picaflor or “flower snacker”. This led us to discuss the Spanish word of parallel construction, chotacabras or goatsucker. The goatsuckers are a group of birds whose members include the poorwill (whip or not), the nighthawk, and yes, the pauraque.

  7. Yvonne, I think you want “chuparosa” and “chupacabra”. My Harper-Collins SE-ES dictionary lists “chupaflor” and “chupamirto” (“mirto” is myrtle) as meaning “hummingbird”, but doesn’t have “chuparosa” (or “chupacabra”).

  8. No, the word is chotacabras. My dictionary doesn’t have chotarosa, but plant and animal names are notoriously difficult to find (as witness this entry); at any rate, a chuparosa is a plant, but apparently also means ‘hummingbird’ (see this page, for instance), so chotarosa is presumably an alternate form (different dialect?).

  9. Google returns no hits for “chotarosa” or “chotarosas”.
    I’m a little surprised, in my ignorance, that it’s chuparosa rather than chuparosas – I thought this construction usually took a plural noun (e.g. sacacorchos).

  10. Drae,
    Chuparrosa, mex, colibrí.(colibrí is a caribean loan to spanish)
    Chotacabras, from “chotar”,suckle, lat. suctāre + “cabra” goat. Is an insectivore.
    There is a dark latinamerican legend on “chotacabras”, kind of animal-eater vampire or demon.

  11. Thanks a million, silmarillion!

  12. Franzen is another example of what isn’t fair with the world.

  13. Silmarillion, I’m pretty sure “chupacabras” is the mythical blood-sucker, not chotacabras, unless it’s a matter of dialect. Do a google search and you’ll see scary monster pictures.

  14. Chotacabras is a kind of owl, Caprimulgus europaeus.
    11 But the cormorant and the bittern shall possess it; the owl also and the raven shall dwell in it: and he shall stretch out upon it the line of confusion, and the stones of emptiness. Isaiah, 34.11
    Chotacabras/chupacabras is dialectal. In Argentina and Uruguay “chupar” stands for “chotar”
    Drae tells us that a “choto” is the babygoat (chotar=suckle) but in southamerica this word has a sexual meaning.

  15. Seriously, Sil, do the google image search on both of these words. The chupacabras images will make the hair on the back of your neck stand up. The chotacabras pictures are kind of cute little birds.
    Unfortunately this doesn’t help with the rose-sucker in either suggested form — must be a rarer word!

  16. I report back now from my friends regarding the chupa-/chota- -rosa/-cabros debate. This says some interesting things about the nature of pop culture and sociolinguistics. My friends are not linguists, but birders who work at a zoo. They have received their information via Petersons’ field guides, their working class Spanish speaking coworkers from Mexico, Spanish speaking patrons of unknown economic class, education or country of origin visiting the zoo, and The Weekly World News. “Chupacabros” is used in WWN to indicate a succubus/incubus type demon. “Chuparrosa” is the word for hummingbird used by two Spanish speaking parents visiting the zoo. “Chotacabros” is the word for goatsucker (the group of insect-eating birds under original discussion).
    As to whether either of the -cabros words indicates a pauraque or an owl, this is why birders and zoologists prefer Latin names. The common ones all too often refer to several, very different animals. But they make up for that lack by their wonderful nature and the fact that they engender discussions liks this.

  17. Xris. the dark legend I am referring when speaking about “chotacabras” is the one relating owls with demons in biblical texts.
    isaiah,34.11; isaiah,34.13; isaiah,34.14; isaiah,34.15
    In spanish translations as “Español Sagradas Escrituras”, “owl” is translated as “lamia”. In “Sagrada Biblia de la Biblioteca de Autores Cristianos, Editorial Católica S. A., is translated as “Lilith”
    Lamia in greek mithology is the daughter of Libya and Belus, and as result of Hera’s wrath, ( guess why :))Lamia was compelled to eat her own children.
    Lamia suckles blood form children and men.

  18. Caprimulgus europaeus is the European nightjar. Related to but different from the owls.

  19. The Israeli translator of Harry Potter, Gili Bar Hillel, once sent me a long email explaining how she chose to translate the word ‘owl’ (actually it was a specific type of owl) into Hebrew. Apparently, Lilith is used in the official Hebrew name for this particular kind of owl, but she avoided ‘Lilith’ because of the dark and sinister connotations that it carries. Instead, she used Lilith to translate another word in the Harry Potter books; I believe it may have been ‘banshee’.
    To my great regret, I failed to save the email she sent me (it was very interesting and well written) and it was lost in one of those disc crashes/email problems that I seem to run into periodically.

  20. is the assonance between “pauraque” and “parakeet” entirely coincidental?

  21. Yup, “parakeet” is probably from a diminutive of Pierre.

  22. Andrew Dunbar says

    I’m so interested in these Spanish construction that I have begun collecting them some months ago here on Wiktionary: http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Category:Spanish_verb_plus_plural_noun_compounds
    Please anybody here feel free to add more, anybody can edit the page.

  23. The Eurasian collared dove owes its specific name decaocto (“18” in Greek) to its distinctive call (click to listen on the page).

  24. I liked “tyrannulet” very much but was unable to find it in any dictionaries: not Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate, not the big Webster’s, not the OED.

    Since it’s been almost fifteen years, I thought the OED might have gotten around to it, but no; a full-text search turns up only this citation, added in 2011 to the rough-legged entry:

    1990 C. G. Sibley & B. L. Monroe Distrib. & Taxon. of Birds of World 338/2 Phyllomyia [burmeisteri] burmeisteri… Rough-legged Tyrannulet. Forest edge, open woodland.

    *drums fingers impatiently*

  25. David Eddyshaw says

    “Cinnamon-faced tyrannulet” seems an appropriate description for a politician. Maybe there’s an injunction against its inclusion?

  26. David Marjanović says

    Turns out it’s Phyllomyias.

    Not to be confused with the flies named Phyllomya.

  27. I’ve just posted “cinnamon-faced tyrannulet” on FB as a new name for you-know-who.

  28. David Marjanović says

    Birds’ Rights activists make up a large portion of his supporters…

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