Tuesday, January 16, 2007

A fish named muskie

Guest-blogger Stumblerette here, introducing herself.

How can one not stumble at the notion of a state fish, a fish called Muskellunge, no less? Muskellunge ("muscle lung") sounds very German to me, but it makes you wonder why a fish would be named after a body part it probably doesn't have.

Older spellings of the word (masque alonge) seem to indicate that the origin is French. But again, one would ask oneself why a fish would be named after a facial feature (an elongated mask) it doesn't have.

Well, it turns out that the name is just one of those false friends: According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the name Muskellunge comes from the Algonquian language Ojibwe and is a variant of maskinonge (the "n" is still preserved in its Latin name, Esox masquinongy). Its meaning is a combination of the words for "ill-formed" and "pike".

There you go, no muscles, no lungs, no mask -- just an ill-formed pike, the state fish of Wisconsin.

So, this is for you phonologists, how/why did the "n" become an "l", leading to all this etymological stumbling?

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