Friday, February 17, 2006

His Guyness on a landmark day

Photo by Lincoln Karim
Feb 6, 2006

Charles Kennedy used to call Pale Male "His Guyness," an especially appropriate epithet to attach to this picture taken on the day the Fifth Avenue pair were first observed mating.

Peace, John Blakeman. I know the right word is "copulating"; I just don't like using it in normal discourse. "Mating" is universally used by all but academics to indicate sexual congress among animals. If hawk specialists or falconers use the word "mating" to mean "forming a pair bond," that's fine. But it's not the way the general public understands it.

When someone looks up and say "The hawks are mating!" everybody understands that they're "doing it." Meanwhile, it feels, well, gross, to say or write "copulating," a cold, scientific word that almost no one uses in ordinary conversation. I feel exactly the same way about using the term "eyass" to indicate a hawk nestling or fledgling or juvenile. Using it seems pretentious, intended to make sure people understand that I know a whole lot more about hawks than they do. Eyass? Oh, does that mean a baby hawk? What a dummy I must be.

By the way, "copulate" seems to be an old word going back to the 14th century. Perhaps it felt more natural to use it in the Elizabethan era, though it doesn't seem to appear in Shakespeare. Here's an entry from the Online Etymological Dictionary:
copulate Look up copulate at
14c., from L. copulatus, pp. of copulare "join together, link, unite," from copula "band, tie, link," from PIE *ko-ap-, from *ko(m)- "together" + *ap- "to take, reach." Originally "to join;" copulation in sense of "to join sexually" is first attested 1483: "Made one flesshe by carnal copulacyon or bodily felawshyp" [Caxton].