October 09, 2005

message in a bottle

this area is known for its microbreweries (among other things). one of the most popular beers around is new glarus's spotted cow. there are quite a few beers that derive their names from animals: the fat squirrel and the staghorn octoberfest (also new glarus), the mudpuppy porter (central waters), and of course the badger red ale (j. t. whitney's). and finally, there's a beer that appeals to dog-lovers (new glarus refers to it as "barley wine" and calls it "the strongest beer we have ever brewed for our friends here in Wisconsin"):

when i first learned that a mudpuppy was actually some kind of salamander (necturus macolosus), i was of course curious about the origin of the name. the scientific name combines the greek word for swimming and the latin word for speckled, and i understand the mud part (even though it seems that mudpuppies actually prefer clear water), but how does the puppy figure in? a brief websearch gave the following results :
  • people used to think that mudpuppies (also known as water dogs) could bark
  • mudpuppies are puppylike in that they never seem to grow up (unlike other salamanders they keep their gills to breathe with all through their life)

unfortunately, the OED hasn't much to add. it lists the first token at 1862 ("Called, also, Water Dog, Menobranchus, Dog-Fish") and gives mud puppy as the preferred spelling. it seems that nobody ever thought that a mudpuppy was cute - a quote from 1897 states that "The mud-puppy..is a repulsive-looking water-lizard". so, i'm not convinced yet of the origin of the name, but at least i now understand the label on the mudpuppy porter bottle.

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