World's Fair


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Science Scout twitter feed


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Photo of a nice set of boobies we saw at the Natural History Museum from the SCQ

So the question, of course, is “what exactly is up with birds and breasts?” And I’m not talking about white meat versus dark meat preferences.


Instead, there is this uncomfortable coincidence between bird names and colloquialisms associated with women’s breasts. It’s almost as if you can do this mental exercise of running off a list of slang words, and then seeing if there is a connection to avian nomenclature.

For example, you have the implied: such as hooters, where even logos take advantage of this relationship. Presumably the connection here is one of onomatopoeia. But what about some of the others?

Here, of course, I’m referring to the Paridae family, which has provided all manner of amusement, especially when you start to list some of the individual species with particularly intriguing names. Such as the Elegant Tit, the White-Browed Tit, the Great Tit, the Yellow Tit, the Siberian Tit, and (I’m not sure what to make of this) the Varied Tit. In fact, to add to the innuendo, there are even the doubly referenced Stripe-breasted Tit and Yellow-breasted Tit.


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A Great Tit…

Why tit? Well, here’s a post that seems to have shed some light on the subject:

The ornithological meaning of the word tit allegedly has Scandinavian origin but according to wikipedia is derived from 14th century English denominating something small. (We have two regular Parus species in Sweden called -tita. The other members of the Parus-genus save for one is called -mes, which means wimp.)

And then there are the boobies. Plural here because in reality, they are known as booby in singular form. Which probably sheds a little light on the reasoning behind their name – that is:

Their name is possibly based on the Spanish slang term bobo, meaning “dunce”, as these tame birds had a habit of landing on-board sailing ships, where they were easily captured and eaten. Owing to this, Boobies are often mentioned as having been caught and eaten by shipwrecked sailors, notably Captain Bligh of the Bounty and his loyalists, during their famous voyage after being set adrift by Fletcher Christian and his mutineers. (From wiki)

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I’ll note that, fortunately, none of the currently characterized species of boobies seem to be in any conservation trouble, which is probably why you haven’t seen a Facebook group called “Save the Boobies” yet (which I’m convinced would be one of those things that would go viral if it did indeed existed).

In any event, this brings us full circle to the main query at stake here. That is, “what exactly is up with birds and breasts?” Seems too much of a coincidence doesn’t it? Maybe there’s some great STS context here, on the male dominance of ornithology circles in the past, or then again maybe not.

For now, maybe to even things up a bit, I await a new generation of bird watchers to name their new avian discoveries after male body parts?

Comments

  1. #1 Joshua Zelinsky
    April 17, 2009

    Am I a bad person if I’m now hoping that a species of boobies does become threatened just so I can start that facebook group?

  2. #2 kyle
    April 17, 2009

    There is one boobie (Tasman Booby) that is thought to be on the extinct list. Maybe like that woodpecker that reappeared, the facebook group could be coming if the boobie were to reappear.

  3. #3 GG
    April 17, 2009

    So, Kyle, that would be a group about peckers and boobies, hmm?

  4. #4 Richard Simons
    April 17, 2009

    For now, maybe to even things up a bit, I await a new generation of bird watchers to name their new avian discoveries after male body parts?

    A young Chinese scientist on a one-year transfer of work was asked to give a presentation on agriculture in China. She’d never given one before, not even in Chinese, so I offered to hear a trial run. She started by showing a map of the country and her first words were ‘China is in the shape of a cock.’ I then had to explain why she should not use the word on this side of the Atlantic.

  5. #5 Joseph
    April 20, 2009

    For the male perspective there are also “Cocks” of course. The “White-necklaced Partridge?” the “White-throated Swallow” and the “Helmeted Woodpecker,” certainly invoke provacative imagary if you have the mind of a 14 yo boy.

    I’m sure many a dissapointed girl has had to endure a “Graceless Honeyeater,” and would regret going home with a “Red-rumped Bush Tyrant,” while some guys might have come across a “Drab Seedeater.”

    My favorite use of “tit,” though, is the “Agile Tit-Tyrant” as I identify strongest with this bird. “White-cheeked Bushtit” is my second fav.

    And the wierdest coincidence of all, my first college girlfriend was actually known as “White-rumped Robin.”

  6. #6 Gasbandit
    January 26, 2012

    Peacock. That is all.

  7. #7 Ramon Casha
    August 12, 2014

    You can often find wood peckers in the vicinity of great tits.

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