Tuesday, April 22, 2014

All the Nest's a Stage: A Deceit of Lapwings

Lapwings by Wenceslas Hollar (1607-1677)
A flock of lapwings is known as a deceit, a name possibly valid for plovers as well. This term of venery comes from The Book of St. Albans (1486), also known as The Book of Hawking, Hunting, and Blasing of Arms, albeit by a way of potential errors of reading and transcription. No. 93 in the St. Albans list of "Compaynys of Beestys and Fowlys" appears to read "a Desserte of Lapwynges." The New English Dictionary (1702) thus records desert as an "alleged name for a covey of Lapwings."    


John Hodgkin writes in the Transactions of the Philological Society (1908) that prior to 1486 a company of lapwings was "correctly" recorded in written sources as a "Dyssayte or disceite." Indeed Google references to "deceit" are in accord, outnumbering those of "desert" by more than 15 to one. There are, however, at least five references to a dessert of lapwings, following the original spelling. Surely these are incorrect as the birds have nothing to offer those with a sweet tooth.  


Hodgkin in support of "deceit" quotes Swainson on the habits of the bird, noting the lapwing "tries to draw pursuers from the nest by wheeling round them, crying and screaming to divert their attention." Similarly, Shakespeare in a Comedy of Errors speaks of a lapwing "far from his nest" as it "screams away whilst the female sits close on the nest til disturbed, when she runs off, feigning lameness." Chaucer calls the lapwing "ful of trecherie." 


Hodgkin claims dix-huit is a "French country" term for the bird in imitation of its cry. The name presumably regards the northern lapwing (Vanellus vanellus) as it is the only species native to Europe (the standard French term is vanneau huppé). Thus he contends the St. Albans term "deceit" should be understood as a double entendre.

The adjective form of lapwing appears to be the little-used "vanelline." Thus one could speak correctly of a "vanelline deceit."

vanneau {fr}
avefría o tero {es}

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