Word of the Day

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Clean animal

Words like mýval (Czech), Waschbär (German), mosómedve (Hungarian), araiguma (Japanese) and szop pracz (Polish) to refer to the raccoon seem to have nothing in common and to have been chosen randomly, but that is not so. All of these words are due to this animal's having the habit of washing its food before eating it. The Czech noun comes from mýt (to wash), the German from waschen (to wash) plus Bär (bear), the Hungarian from mosó (washer, from mosni, to wash) plus medve (bear, a word of Slavic origin, cf. Czech medvěd, Croatian medvjed, Polish niedźwiedź, Slovak medveď, Russian медведь, pronounced medveď), the Japanese from arau (to wash) plus kuma (bear) and the Polish from prać (to wash). In Brazil it is known as guaxinim, which has clearly an Amerindian origin, but I wonder what exactly this word means.

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