View previous topic | View next topic

Rhinoceros

Page 1 of 2
Goto page 1, 2  Next

Flash
180607.  Tue Jun 05, 2007 7:32 pm Reply with quote

It's generally asserted that the term "White Rhino" refers to the the shape of the mouth rather than the colour (wijd, ie wide, rather than white). I can't find the evidence for this, though it sounds fairly plausible. Anyone know better?

 
suze
180608.  Tue Jun 05, 2007 8:36 pm Reply with quote

Now then.

White rhinos and black rhinos are both grey - surely no one would get a klaxon by alleging that the animals are white. The conventional explanation has always been that a white rhino is actually a wyd rhino - from an Afrikaans word meaning "wide" and referring to the creatures mouth. ("wyd" in Afrikaans, "wijd" in Dutch - pronounced much like English "wade" in either case.)

But it seems that there is some serious doubt on the matter. A paper in issue 34 of Pachyderm (The Journal of the African Elephant, African Rhino and Asian Rhino Specialist Groups) goes into the matter in some detail. I don't think I've ever cited a journal published out of Nairobi before!

It notes that while Dutch does have a word wijd, a Dutch or Afrikaans speaker would be more likely to use its near-synonym breed to describe an animal's mouth. The alternate name for a white rhino in English is "broad lipped rhinoceros" and this is rendered in Afrikaans as breŽliprenoster - and no Afrikaans language citations using wydrenoster could be found.

That rather buggers up the question though I'm afraid, specially since the article discusses ten possible alternative explanations for the use of "white" - and finds none of them totally satisfactory. Etymology unknown, I fear.

We are left with a question with two jolly good forfeit answers - but sadly, no right answer.

Rookmaaker, K. (2003) 'Why the name of the white rhinoceros is not appropriate', Pachyderm, 34, pp. 88-93.

The entire journal can be found (free and readily downloadable) at www.iucn.org/themes/ssc/sgs/afesg/pachy/pdfs/Pachy34.pdf.

(Dr Kees Rookmaaker is a Dutchman, and works at the University Museum of Zoology in Cambridge.)

 
Flash
180613.  Wed Jun 06, 2007 2:56 am Reply with quote

No, actually that was exactly what I was hoping for. Thank you very much indeed.

 
dr.bob
180625.  Wed Jun 06, 2007 3:42 am Reply with quote

suze wrote:
A paper in issue 34 of Pachyderm goes into the matter in some detail. I don't think I've ever cited a journal published out of Nairobi before!


Are you a regular subscriber?

Personally I only get it for the crossword :)

 
Flash
180641.  Wed Jun 06, 2007 4:34 am Reply with quote

Here's my summary, with further thanks to suze:

The White Rhino is larger than the Black and has a different-shaped mouth amongst other things, but is a similar colour: grey. It's stated everywhere you look (zoos, books, etc) that the word White is a misreading of the word for Wide in Dutch (wijd) or Afrikaans (wyd), and refers to the shape of the mouth. This etymology was invented in the 1950s and is definitely untrue according to Kees Rookmaaker in an article in the Jan-Jun 2003 issue of Pachyderm, the journal of the African Elephant, African Rhino and Asian Rhino Specialist Groups, to be found at http://www.iucn.org/themes/ssc/sgs/afesg/pachy/pdfs/Pachy34.pdf
The argument can be summarised as follows:

The following explanations have been suggested at various times since the 1830s:
1. Colour. The White is (perhaps) a slightly lighter grey than the black.
2. Albinism. There were early reports of frequent albinism (or, perhaps, just light-coloured individuals) amongst White populations in the 1830s and 40s.
3. Wallowing. A rhino coated in mud appears to be the colour of the mud, which tends to be calcareous in the White's habitat.
4. Sunlight. In bright slanting sunlight, rhinos can indeed look white at a distance.
5. Geographic Variation. At the turn of the century there were hunters' tales of white-coloured rhinos which used to live in the SW of the Cape Colony (in fact there were never any rhinos there, but the tale existed nonetheless).
6. Egret droppings. Cattle egrets sit on the back of the rhinos, and their droppings could have given the impression of whteness at a distance.
7. Disposition. Old Boer hunters thought the relatively timorous White was comparable to a white man, whereas the aggressive Blacks were more like fierce black tribesmen.
8. Age and Sex. It was suggested in 1875 that the difference in colour might arise from age or sex - it isn't clear what was meant by this, though.
9. Colour of horn. Mid-C19th hunters asserted that the two species had different coloured horns.
10. Corruption of an Afrikaans word. This idea doesn't occur before 1931, when a game warden named CRS Pitman suggested that it was a corruption of a word meaning 'bright' or 'shining' in reference to the smoother hide. In fact there is no such Afrikaans word, so he suggested widg, meaning great - except that that word turned out not to exist either. The theory was forgotten till 1952 when Antwerp Zoo received their first White Rhinos and W van den Bergh first suggested the wijde = wide idea. This became the most common explanation from the 1960s onwards.

So there isn't any evidence for this origin; it's a piece of speculative etymology from the 1950s - this much is clear. But it sounds plausible enough - so is it a reasonable speculation? Apparently not: the word for 'wide' that Dutch/Afrikaans would naturally apply to an anatomical feature is 'breed' (like 'broad'), and there is no evidence of wyd ever having been used in this way. Rookmaaker consulted academic experts in Afrikaans and Old Dutch in 2002 and concludes that "It is, therefore, impossible that 'white' in 'white rhinoceros' is a corruption of wijd or any other Dutch or Afrikaans word of the early 19th centuryÖ. This derivation should no longer be used in popular texts to explain the name of the rhinoceros called 'white'."

 
suze
180665.  Wed Jun 06, 2007 6:12 am Reply with quote

dr.bob wrote:
Are you a regular subscriber?


But of course, much as this newfangled Google shows signs of being quite a useful tool ...


Since I'm sure we wouldn't would to allege any strange pronunciations along the lines of "kroo-ith-nee", I think that wijd or wyd should be comparable to the English "wade", though shorter (cut if off at the point where it starts turning from "eh" into "ee"). Breed has a long vowel, so is rather like "brayed" (i.e. what a donkey did).

 
Alfred E Neuman
425026.  Sat Oct 18, 2008 4:04 pm Reply with quote

suze wrote:
Since I'm sure we wouldn't would to allege any strange pronunciations along the lines of "kroo-ith-nee", I think that wijd or wyd should be comparable to the English "wade", though shorter (cut if off at the point where it starts turning from "eh" into "ee"). Breed has a long vowel, so is rather like "brayed" (i.e. what a donkey did).


In Afrikaans, 'w' is pronounced as 'v', snd the 'd' in wyd is closer to 't', so I'd say it's more like 'vate' (rhyming with 'gate'). In fact 'wide' is a lot closer to 'white' than 'wyd' is to either 'white' or 'wit' (the Afrikaans word for white), so the Afrikaans pronunciation causing the supposed drift in name is less likely than English.

 
suze
425031.  Sat Oct 18, 2008 4:14 pm Reply with quote

Thanks Alfred!

You are hereby appointed as QI Consultant (Afrikaans Pronunciation); should the need arise again we'll know who to ask!

As you see in this discussion, none of the proposed explanations as to why the white rhino is so called is entirely satisfactory, and we have to conclude that the origin of the name is unknown.

 
Alfred E Neuman
425045.  Sat Oct 18, 2008 4:40 pm Reply with quote

I'm trying to find a book I have which was written by Ian Player who was instrumental in saving the white rhino from extinction. He worked in the Umfolozi Game Reserve and was part of the team that first managed to relocate rhino to other game reserves where their numbers had declined to a point where they were no longer viable. I haven't read the book in years, but I suspect that it's not going to provide any more insight than we have here. I've moved house too many times for it to be easy to find anything though, and for all I know it'll be a book shelf at the ex's.

Ian Player is quite a remarkable man, and among other things started the Dusi canoe marathon, which is a three day paddle from Pietermaritzburg to Durban. He is also Gary Player's older brother, so achievement is obviously not unknown in their family...

 
bobwilson
425110.  Sat Oct 18, 2008 6:10 pm Reply with quote

suze wrote:
The alternate name for a white rhino .


OK suze - I concede that my dislike of "gotten" may be irrational - but alternate is definitely not the same as alternative.

 
suze
425124.  Sat Oct 18, 2008 6:33 pm Reply with quote

In British usage, no it isn't, but in North American usage "alternate" is often used as an adjective in this way when British usage frowns upon it. So yes, I plead guilty to North American usage there.

And remember that all these forums "below the line" - The Green Room being the sole exception - were originally caused into existence for research purposes, rather than for public viewing. When I wrote the original post, it was for a limited rather than a general audience, so the usual standards of attention to grammatical and syntactical detail may not necessarily have applied.

 
bobwilson
425137.  Sat Oct 18, 2008 6:45 pm Reply with quote

Quote:
And remember that all these forums "below the line" - The Green Room being the sole exception - were originally caused into existence for research purposes, rather than for public viewing. When I wrote the original post, it was for a limited rather than a general audience, so the usual standards of attention to grammatical and syntactical detail may not necessarily have applied.


You've lost me there - below what line? (And I feel murderous about the construct "originally caused into existence"). Put down that axe Eugene. What is this limited audience of which you speak?

 
96aelw
425145.  Sat Oct 18, 2008 6:58 pm Reply with quote

The line on which the legend "QI: the BBC TV series" is emblazoned, between What Fresh Hell and The Green Room. The forums beneath the Green Room all began life as research forums used, and only viewable by, by the elves (and latterly half elves) researching the programme. Some time after having fulfilled their destiny, they are made visible to all (and indeed sundry).

 
bobwilson
425151.  Sat Oct 18, 2008 7:08 pm Reply with quote

Ah - now I think I understand - so when suze wrote her original post in 2007 it was only visible to the elves?

Still, getting back to the original point - this "North American usage" is just a euphemism for "American English" which is Microsoft's excuse for "we can't spell". Just because 200 million people are wrong doesn't make it right. There is a difference between alternate and alternative and that's one distinction on which I won't yield (despite my capitulation on the subject of "gotten").

 
suze
425169.  Sat Oct 18, 2008 7:36 pm Reply with quote

That's correct bob - when I originally wrote that, only those involved in research for the show were able to read it.

I think we shall have to agree to differ on the matter of North American usage. As far as I am concerned, it is a thing which is slightly different than but of equal validity to British usage.

I'm well aware that many British people don't see it that way; many USians don't either. But I'm Canadian, and it is our nation's USP that we are at all times permitted to pick and choose as between the British way, the American way, both, or neither.

 

Page 1 of 2
Goto page 1, 2  Next

All times are GMT - 5 Hours


Display posts from previous:   

Search Search Forums

Powered by phpBB © 2001, 2002 phpBB Group