A bird in the market is worth two in the journal

From the Flickr stream of Tullis, shared under Creative Commons license While researching yesterday's post about adjutant, I came across references to the adjutant-bird, adjutant-crane, or adjutant-stork, which the OED described as “A gigantic species of stork (Ciconia Argala) native to India; so called from its stiff quasi-military gait when walking.” The American Heritage Dictionary calls this kind of bird a marabou.

In looking at marabou in both the AHD and the OED, all kinds of interesting things come up in the etymology. The AHD's is simpler, saying marabou comes from the "French marabout, meaning a Muslim hermit, from the Portuguese marabuto, from Arabic murābiṭ, meaning posted, stationed, marabout, participle of rābaṭa, meaning to be posted."

The OED says that "The naming of the bird after the holy man originally occurred in Arabic dialect (e.g. Moroccan Arabic mrābiṭ.)"

The OED defines marabout as:

  • 1. A Muslim holy man or mystic, especially in north-western Africa, usually living apart as an ascetic.
  • 2. A shrine marking the burial place of a marabout.

Interesting enough, but there's more on the bird. Marabou can also refer to the bird's feathers, and in fact did so before it referred to the bird, the OED says. It's first definition, which has a usage dated to 1819:

  • 1. A tuft or plume of the soft white downy feathers from the wings or tail of the marabou stork (see sense 2), used for trimming hats, etc., and subsequently also in fly-fishing; also more fully marabou feather, marabou plume. Also as a mass noun: trimming made of these feathers.

The first usage cited for the bird itself is in 1826 in the OED, defined as:

  • 2. More fully marabou stork. A large African stork, Leptoptilos crumeniferus, which has a massive bill and an inflatable pendent pouch on the neck, feeding chiefly on carrion.

The OED's etymology gives a very interesting reason for why the name for the feathers came into English before the name for the bird those feathers came from:

  • "The English word is attested in the sense ‘feather of the marabou stork’ a year before the first attestation of the French word as a bird name; this is probably due to the tendency for foreign animal products to be known (through commerce) before the animals themselves."

As the world was being explored, it was also being exploited for commerce. It's not surprising that the speed of business' effect on language was even greater than that of science.