Friday, October 10, 2008

Eric the Urchin

In the dentist chair this morning I saw a bit of that Planet Earth deal, and the phrase 'larva of the sea urchin' made me wonder about why we call them larva and urchins, and why do we call both street urchins and sea urchins urchins? It just so happens that I wonder about the etymology of every word for which I don't already know; the difference this time is that I remembered which words I wondered about. And I have a this blog, and whole world of people who don't care that I can explain it to.

So, larva in Latin meant something like lemure, which is plenty interesting and probably something I'll use in D&D, but it's not my topic this afternoon. Urchin, you crafty Universe, is also a name for hedgehogs. Is there anything about hedgehogs that isn't wonderful? Their German name is Igel, so, you know, it sounds like eagle; and they're the mascot of the German Green Party, for which reason Doris Matthaus paints them into a great deal of her boardgame artwork, to my endless delight.

But I digress. And I hate that game. Hard.

Yesterday I saw a hedgehog in a top hat on a shelf in the grocery store, lying in a jumble of assorted stuffed-animal fur and sundry adorableness, and there was no way I could avoid taking both him and his top hat home with me. Well, not home, but back to work where I gave him to my dear friend Lowdown Larry Lowenbrau. Now, she used to ask 'What's his name please' whenever I presented her with any animal of the small and googly-eyed variety, but this time I was unprepared.

Well, she didn't ask anyway, but the point of this story (and don't get your hopes up, it's not much of a point) is that the Latin source of urchin is ericius, which is not related to Eric (that's Old Norse for 'ever-ruler') except that it looks just like it, so now the hedgehog is named Eric the Urchin. Huh. Oxford American has 'hericius.' If I'd looked there first, I probably wouldn't have thought of Eric. Thanks a lot not-Eric McKean.

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