October 09, 2005

do you know your state fish?

looking up the etymology of mudpuppy reminded me of another animal with an interesting name: muskellunge, wisconsin's state fish. in german, it would mean "muscle lung". muskellunge. fascinating. as is the whole idea of a state fish.

however, the muskie is not named for its lungs (nor for its muscles, for that matter). according to the OED the name muskellunge is a variant of maskinonge (originally a four-syllable word), with dissimilation from /n/ to /l/. it's based on two words from ojibwa, an algonquian language (masi "ill-formed"+ kinose "northern pike", excuse my simplified spelling).

it seems that germans are not the only ones who try to make sense of the name based on what it would mean in their native language:
"The forms masq'allongé, masque alonge are prob. due to a popular etymology which took the word as French masque long or masque allongé ‘long mask’. The form muscalonge is relatively frequent in 19th-cent. sources. The word was pronounced with four syllables at least as late as the third quarter of the 19th cent. [...] Webster changes the notation of syllables from four in the 1886 ed. to three in 1890." [OED]
[on edit:] in edition to the state fish we also have a state animal (the badger, of course), a state wildlife animal (white-tailed deer), a state domesticated animal (the dairy cow, suprise, surprise), a state insect (honeybee) and, yeah, a state dog (the american water spaniel), chosen because it is "[f]ull of life, and always ready to spring into action for the hunt". the aws orginated in the midwest in the 1800s and is very distinctive with its curly coat and it's bell-shaped floppy ears. i wonder why they are so rare.

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