January 27th, 2011



   It's raining here in France; il pleut. Rainfall; pluviosité. The French for 'rain' derives from the Latin pluvius. If the French republican calendar were still in operation we would now be in the month of Pluviôse (a three week month, each week ten days long, extending from late January to mid February). The National Convention that oversaw the creation of the calendar decreed that a circumflex should not be used on the 'o', but that directive was generally ignored - which makes sense as the 'o' would need a hat in the rainy month.

This is my Peewit or Lapwing or Green Plover (Vanellus vanellus)

  This plover has several common names (and many more regional ones) as it is a striking, widespread bird that feeds in a variety of habitats.

   'Peewit' derives from its call.

Until recently I'd assumed that the 'wing' in 'Lapwing' was there as a direct result of the bird's lolloping flight (I'm sure I'm not alone in this, which is no doubt the reason the term has remained current), but Francesca Greenoak, a reputable etymologist, says, in 'All the Birds of the Air';

   “... the word Lapwing comes from the Old English Hleapewince which has the quite beautiful meaning of a 'leap with a waver in it' which conveys so well the tremulous power of the Lapwing's flight. The autumn and winter group flights are particularly 'hleapewince', a flock surging and turning, showing first the green-black upperside of the wide wing, then the brilliant white of the underside, moving together like a flickering chequerboard.”

   The French term for a plover is pluvier, which used to be plovier and was Anglicised as such when the Normans invaded England. I imagine the word would have quickly spread, along with the other French-inspired gastronomic replacement words (mutton/sheep, beef/cow, Pork/swine), as Lapwing eggs were a popular dish. In various dictionaries there is much talk of the plover/pluvier/pluvius/rain connection (the German for plover, Regenpfeifer, means 'rain-piper'), but, according to 'The Oxford Dictionary of British Bird Names' by W B Lockwood, these associations are erroneous;

   “The name is basically imitative of the clear, far-reaching call, in this case heard as plō (the Norsemen heard it as lō), but associated by folk etymology with plovere (Classical pluere) to rain, imparting a meaning something like rain bird. It is needless now to add that the many attempts to find a rational connection between the Plover and the rain, by writers ancient and modern, have necessarily been in vain.”

   Another plover association comes to mind, one beautifully surmised by Robert Williams Wood in 'How to tell the Birds from the Flowers' (1917);