Sally Thomason at Language Log has a post in which she describes how she came to learn the synonyms stot and pronk, both of which describe the “hilarious pogo-stick bounds” of mule-deer (and antelope, gazelles, and the like). The etymology of stot is unknown, but pronk is “from an Afrikaans word meaning ‘to show off, strut, prance’, and ultimately from Dutch pronken ‘to strut’; and it was first applied to the spectacular bounds of the little South African antelope called a springbok.” I felt it my bounden duty to tell you about these wonderful words, even if few of us will have the chance to use them in the course of our daily lives.


  1. But does anyone ever let you use them in Scrabble? No they don’t.

  2. Chris Booth says

    Stot is a fairly common word in Scots, meaning to bounce (or to walk with a bounce). So you might hear kids in playground talking about stotting a ball. Chambers English Dictionary (published in Edinburgh, so it’s always good on Scots words) lists it, so yes Harry, I think I could use it in Scrabble! Unfortunately Chambers has [Origin obscure], so no joy on the etymology. There’s also the lovely word stotious, meaning drunk, which Chambers thinks might be connected.

  3. In his fantastic book The Behavior Guide to African Mammals, Richard Despard Estes uses pronking only when referring to the springbok, and stotting for all other species. He calls pronking “the unique springbok version of stotting, during which the back is bowed, the tail is clamped, the neck is lowered, and the straightened legs are bunched.” I don’t know if anyone else makes this distinction between the two terms — indeed, Estes is contradicted by the glossary of his own book, which says that pronking and stotting are synonyms — but I’m reluctant to argue with a guy whose colleagues refer to him as “The Guru of Gnu.”

  4. Richard Hershberger says

    I’m quite sure I have seen at least one of these words, and possibly both, in Stephen Jay Gould’s writings. (The evolutionary point of the behavior is to demonstrate to predators that the individual will be a difficult catch, so better look for easier prey.) I think “stot” is the word I have seen, but I would have to go digging to be sure.

  5. “Pronking” is fairly commonly used in South Africa. As someone above has said, pronking usually describes the athletic leaps made by springboks, and stotting describes the less graceful moves of other animals. “Stot” in north east English dialects means bounce. My dialect dictionary links it to Dutch “stuiten” = to bounce. “Stotting” in the same dialects means angry, and is ultimately from the same root as “stuttering”.

  6. The online Scrabble dictionary at does not allow either stot or pronk. Considering some of the words they do allow, I’m surprised.

  7. I can confirm that stot is a commonly used word in Scotland. I associate it mostly with hard rain “stotting off” the pavement. Oddly enough, when I google “stotting rain” I get a link to a Scottish Parliament – Official Report in which an SMP pleads for greater awareness of the need to repect linguistic diversity gives some examples of borrowings from other languages and claims, in passing, that the word “stotting” is derived from the Dutch ‘stotten’.

  8. “The little stotting bugger came pronking into my life.”
    Sorry, I just had to use these words in an anglo-sized sentence…a sentence of life in the prison of the absurd (in Guantanamo, I assume)…and I accept the pun-ish-ment.
    in sackcloth and ashes,
    Ur fiend

  9. And in Scotland a “stotter” can be a shapely lass.

  10. “(aan-)stoten” (long o, only on t in the middle) in Dutch means bumping (into), as in bumping your toe into doorposts in the night, or giving someone a shove. The shove-part sounds about right as a description of what wildebeests do to eachother.

  11. Right… Springboks, I mean. Sorry. Don’t Wildebeests pronk & stot too?

  12. No, wildebeest don’t stot or pronk. But they do cavort!

  13. I think of prinking, an old canting term for dressing like a swell, or Spenser’s Gentle Knight, “pricking on the plain”.

  14. A fabulous verb is "to pronk".
    The antelopes jump when you honk.
    Its synonym, "stot"
    Was made up by some Scot.
    I think that he must have been dronk.
  15. “And grace gaue pieres, of his goodnesse, foure stottis, Al þat his oxen eryed, þey to harwe after.” 1377 Langland Piers Plowman B. xix. 262 – from OED online.
    This sense, an inferior horse, is related to the northern use of it for a steer or a heifer. To me this suggests the movement of the animal, unsteady, jerking, is related to the verb sense which is dated by OED to 1513.

  16. Interesting; you should suggest it to the OED folks.

  17. I remember it best from a list of four-legged gaits: stotting, walking, trotting, pacing, transverse galloping, rotary galloping, bounding. I thought there were eight, but those are the only ones I can remember. “An elephant cannot run, but can walk fast enough to trample a running man.”

  18. David Marjanović says

    Under the biomechanical definition, elephants can run, bending their knees and using their legs as springs rather than as inverted pendulums.

  19. Correct, but their gait is that of a walk (called ambling or single-footing when done quickly).

  20. David Marjanović says

    Only if you use “all fours off the ground at the same time” as the only criterion!

  21. Per contra, the only reason not to call it a walk is the arbitrary criterion of less than 50% duty cycle. Not only are all four feet never off the ground, but the footfall pattern of the legs is that of a walk, with no two fired at the same time.

  22. marie-lucie says

    pronk, prance?

    The O(nline)ED says for prance ‘origin unknown’ but does cite pronken. Prance strongly suggests a French origin, and the OED suggests a possible paravancier which I have never run into, and neither does the TLFI. There could have been an OF verb prancer from a Germanic root pronk/prank.

    dancing frog?

    I wonder if some of the words discussed above could be of help in a small detail of my research. My major language of specialty (on the Canadian West Coast) has a word for frog, toad which is clearly analyzable as a derived noun, but its root does not seem to occur elsewhere in the language. But this language also contains many borrowings, especially of animal terms, from neighbouring languages. I recently discovered that one of those languages has a verb “of unknown origin”, corresponding exactly in sound to the probable root of my frog, allegedly meaning ‘to dance’! As I was commenting on these words with someone who knows the other language, saying I was sure of my analysis and correspondence but not so sure about ‘to dance’ as the basic meaning, he pointed out that the traditional native style of “dancing” consists in little jumps (both feet moving together in place) rather tnan steps (as in walking or running). So, does a frog “jump”, or would a more picturesque verb (stot, etc) better describe its motion?

  23. Frogs are idiomatically said to jump, but after watching them in slow motion, they don’t appear to be stotting. Rather, the frog rears back on its hind legs, lifts its front legs off the ground, and jumps with the hind legs only, like a human jumper. So words for quadrupedal gaits don’t really apply.

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