Friday, April 17, 2015

Ocelot or Ocenot?

The brilliant and quotable G. K. Chesterton wrote, “It is one thing to describe an interview with a gorgon or a griffin, a creature who does not exist. It is another thing to discover that the rhinoceros does exist and then take pleasure in the fact that he looks as if he didn't.”

Animals are okay with me. Some are okayer than others, though. My main problem is that animalologists have done a poor job of naming animals. Take the friendly, cute, and horribly named Dik-Dik. Come on, people! You can do better!

Some animals have awesome or highly appropriate names. You can't argue with Elephant, which sounds big and loud. Tigers have the Grrrr built into the name. Snakes have their Sssss. The Kangaroo sounds bouncy. The name Squid is quite similar to the sound one makes when it hits the floor. All these are fine.

Going to the less familiar critters, the Auk has a great bird name, but I don't know if it makes that sound. Maybe the Seagull should have been the Auk, because he sure does. The name Gazelle is as graceful as he is. The Gerenuk is also called the giraffe-necked antelope, and sounds it. You hear the name Kinkajou and think of a sneaky little nocturnal fellow. The various Boks---Springbok, Steenbok, Gemsbok, Rhebok, etc.---all sound like something with antlers that will give you the business. And I've waxed poetic about the mighty Ibex in the past.

Other animals names are dismaying less descriptive, however, and a good example of how our scientist pals have let down the side. I immediately think of the Wombat, who has nothing batlike about him, but is more like a chubby raccoon that digs.

The wombat doing his thing; by Ed Nofziger, from Will Cuppy's classic How to Attract the Wombat.

Nutria don't even sound like animals---more like some diet supplement. Their other name, Coypu, still doesn't tell you that they are river rats. The Peccary strikes me as a condiment, or some stupid Dr. Seuss made-up word, not an actual pig. (Also called a Javelin, like that's any help.) And the Cassowary sounds like a French entree.

The Ocelot has always been a puzzler for me. It doesn't sound anything like a cat. I picture a sloth variety, or something more burly. Ocelot would have made a good name for a Wombat, now that I think about it, but life just isn't fair. It's a shame, because it's a cool name that lends itself to poetry:

When Ocelot was an Oceltot 
He was just an Ocelittle. 
Don't try to cuddle Oceltot
If scared he'll Ocelpiddle.

If you read Ocelot too quickly, you might see it as Octelot, as if he were an eight-legged sea creature. I don't even want to start on sea creatures. That will take you down the Bauscat hole (the Bauscat not being a cat, but a rabbit -- GAAH!).

All this has inspired me to write a poem, as you may have feared. Come on, you've read this far, might as well finish it off.

What the Ocelot Is Not

By Frederick Key

When the Wombat
Goes to combat
He bears not wings to beat;
And the Bongo
In the Congo
Peels no plantains with his feet.

The Dwarf Zebu
No stripes, all moo,
Still thinks she’s rather slim,
And the Banteng
(Always ranting)
Says she’s just the cow for him.

Some names simply wound us to the core.
Of the Dik-Dik we shall say no more.

Peccary dickory
Switches of hickory?
No, he's more pig than poke.
Nutria wishes
To sound less nutrishes
This rat doesn't think it's a joke.

Non-concave Cavy
Afraid to be gravy
Hopes Ocelot might be a fish,
But four legs and slinky
(Not eight arms and inky)
Makes Ocelot not what he’d wish.

No one knows what to make of Babirusa.
They try to be witty but it just ain't no usa.

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