In my snipe meanderings, I recently stumbled across a Cornell University Library reference book from 1898 titled “The Birds of Old English Literature”, which provides some language background to the bird’s name.
Most will be familiar with the old name “snite“, as described in the first reference:
"Gen. Gallinago. True Snipes. LI I. I. snite. Snipe. ME. snite, snyte ; perhaps allied to snort, probably having reference to the bird's long bill. WW. 285. 12, 344. 38, Cp. C. 138: acegia, snite; WW. 132. 20: aceta, snite uel wudecocc."
However, I think I was most charmed by an earlier name derived from the male snipe’s courtship call, which renders in modern English as “hammer-bleat”, among others:
"2. hzeferbljlte. Snipe. This word does not appear in ME. but is preserved in Mod.E. as hammer-bleat and heather-bleat, a snipe. In the dictionaries it is variously termed sea gull, bittern, and hawk. Once it appears as hcefenblcete (' haven-screamer,' gull) but this is probably for hmferblcEte, the usual form ; <C hosfer, a he-goat (L. caper) + blcetan, to bleat, lit. a ' goat-bleater.' This seems to describe accurately the male snipe, whose love song resembles the bleatmg of a goat. Hence in many languages the snipe is known by names signifying ' flying goat,' ' heaven's ram,' as in Scotland the ' heather-bleater.' Cf. Diet, of Birds."
Interesting background information for the curious snipe hunter. Facsimile edition and full text of this reference book can be found at the Internet Archive:
One thought on ““The Hammer-Bleat” from The Birds of Old English Literature by Charles Huntington Whitman”
A most interesting reference to the origin of the name “Snipe”.
The study of language is fascinating.
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