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236684.  Wed Nov 28, 2007 10:45 am Reply with quote

After a Minerva Moon gag on another thread (post 235070), I got to thinking about quetzals. And since it was about time I made myself write a serious post, they seemed about as good a subject as any. So here's some stuff about quetzals which for the most part doesn't duplicate what we all know already!

Quetzals are brightly colored birds of the family Trogonidae which live in Central and South America. There are six species of quetzal – crested, eared, golden headed, pavonine, resplendent and white tipped – but that which is most often associated with the name is the resplendent quetzal, Pharomachrus mocinno.

These are green with a red breast, and the easy way to tell the sex of a resplendent quetzal is to look at its beak – yellow for a male, black for a female. These birds were considered divine in Maya and Aztec society, and to kill one was a capital offence. And of course, one of the main Aztec gods was half snake, half quetzal, and was called Quetzalcoatl.

At this point, time to introduce a klaxon. You may have learned in history class that when Motecuhzoma Xocoyotzin (Montezuma II, as they probably called him in the said history class) first met Hernán Cortés, he hailed him as being the second coming of Quetzalcoatl. This story seems to have been entirely created by Cortés; he used it as a story to impress the Belgian King of Spain, Charles I, II, III, IV and V. While Aztec history does record Motecuhzoma offering Cortés his throne, there is some doubt as to the authenticity of this event. And even if it did happen, it was probably more among the lines of “Take my chair, little man; I am perfectly capable of standing”. What’s more, and despite what you were told, Aztec religion didn’t include the notion that Quetzalcoatl would one day return in the form of a light skinned man with a beard. There are some who seek to identify Quetzalcoatl with Vishnu, and others (mainly Mormons, although it’s not official LDS doctrine) who identify him with Jesus.

Back to quetzals. As I'm sure everyone knows, the quetzal is the national symbol of Guatemala – there’s one on the flag – and the country’s main unit of currency is also called the quetzal. One quetzal is about 6p, and the one quetzal bill is made of the same plastic used for Australian banknotes.

The word QUETZALS is some kind of holy grail among Scrabble players – if it’s played in the right place (i.e. with the Z on a double letter score), it scores 374. Which is rather a lot really, although not the highest that can be scored for an eight letter word – BEZIQUES, CAZIQUES, MEZQUITE, MEZQUITS and OXAZEPAM can all score 392. When you’ve achieved all of those in your Facebook Scrabble games, try for PHOSPHOGLYCERALDEHYDE, which scores a mere 7106! Incidentally, the form quetzals is only the English plural; the Spanish plural is quetzales, and the Nahuatl plural is usually taken as quetzaltin.

And yes, Virginia, quetzals have quims.

Towsend, C (2003) “No One Said it was Quetzalcoatl: Listening to the Indians in the Conquest of Mexico”, History Compass 1(1), Blackwell Publishing, Oxford

King of Quok
244445.  Thu Dec 13, 2007 11:22 am Reply with quote

The males perform some sort of back-flip from their perch to avoid damaging their massive train feathers, as far as I can recall.


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