A couple of interesting words encountered while perusing the OED, the first remarkable for its etymology (lapwing has nothing to do with lap or wing) and the second because I hadn’t realized (though it made sense once I thought about it) Ring Lardner’s family name was once an occupation.

lapwing [OE. hléapewince, str. fem., f. hleápan to leap + *winc– to totter, waver (so OHG. winkan, MHG. winken, also to wink; cf. OE. wincian to wink. The bird was named from the manner of its flight. The current form is in part due to popular etymology, which connected the word with lap v.2 and wing sb.] A well-known bird of the plover family, Vanellus vulgaris or cristatus, common in the temperate parts of the Old World. Called also pewit, from its peculiar cry. Its eggs were the ‘plovers’ eggs’ of the London markets. Allusions are frequent to its crested head, to its wily method of drawing away a visitor from its nest, and to the notion that the newly hatched lapwing runs about with its head in the shell.

lardner [a. AFr. lardiner, an altered form (? after gardiner gardener; for the form cf. vintner) of larder, OFr. lardier, f. lard: see lard sb.]
1 = larder 1. north. and Sc. Obs.
2 An official who has charge of a larder. Obs. exc. as the title of an honorary office.


  1. Cryptic Ned says

    That’s interesting.
    The American plover called the killdeer also has a wily method of drawing away a visitor from its nest, which Daniel Dennett has shown as an example of an animal seeming to understand other animals and predict what they will do.
    It’s the only plover that lives inland, I think.
    Is there a book or website of words with obvious etymological roots that are wrong? Like lapwing, butterfly, shamefaced…

  2. Perusing the OED?
    Slow day in the office, mate?

  3. Brilliant post, Hat. I tried working up a little narrative involving pantry doors and plovers leaping out in winks, but it did disservice. So we’ll stick with brilliant.

  4. I’ve got the OED online at work, company subscription, and the day can be of any speed at all, it is immaterial once I go there. I particularly like the “recently added” section.
    I don’t know about the killdeer, but the lapwing also lives inland, mainly on farmland. Of course nowhere is very far from the sea in the UK. But it also lives inland in other areas of Europe. I prefer the name peewit (popular spelling) because it’s perfectly onomatopoeic.

  5. thatwhichfalls says

    I used to live on Lapwing Lane in Manchester – by far the prettiest street address I’ve ever had – much better than our current one “Butte Creek” (or “butt crack” as the kids call it).
    Funny the strange contexts lapwing comes up in – Robert Graves writes at length about the lapwing “hiding the secret” in “The White Goddess”, although I understood that part as little as the rest of the book. I should really try re-reading it sometime.
    Apologies for the rambling – I’m bored and working nights 🙂

  6. LH, you may want to look at Walker Percy’s _Message in a Bottle_, which is a meditation on why we take words to mean what they do, and a lot of other interesting things as well.

  7. Going Dotty in Kansas says

    In addition to the killdeer, you might want to take a gander at waxwing, titmouse, nuthatch, and nightjar (all passerines [well, with the exception of the killdeer]) and all of which are entirely acceptable in Scrabble…

  8. sorry:When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean–neither more nor less.”

Speak Your Mind