March 26, 2004

A Richness of Martens

I just came across the title phrase. Apparently it is the nominally correct collective singular for the small Canadian forest animal known as the marten.

According to Wikipedia: Martens are carnivorous animals related to weasels, minks, and wolverines.

I'm quite bemused, but then, it's been a long week.


Posted 2004/03/26 16:58 (Fri) | TrackBack

There is a marten on the British Isles that lives in woods. But a different marten lives in German cities, and probably other cities, and chews car cables. You can get various electronic devices to frighten martens away from your car.

Posted by: MM at March 26, 2004 21:55

Indeed, there is a marten who roams our neighbourhood at night; a handsome creature, though I have only fleeting glances of him from the balcony. I imagine he makes his lair (or den or sett or whatever it's properly called) in a nearby park.

Am I the only one, BTW, who has the impression that many of these collective terms for animals (e.g., an 'exaltation of larks') are twee and intentionally made-up things? I mean no reflection on the term 'richness of martens', of course, as martens (whether of the auto-cable snipping or the blogging variety) certainly add to our richness.

Posted by: Mrs Tilton at March 27, 2004 13:50

Me too, Mrs. Tilton. I think that a few of them come from the propensity of stockmen and hunters to particularize vocabulary for prey species (so that you have wether, steer / ox, gelding, capon, barrow / hog, all meaning the castrated male of its species).

The weasel family should be more of a problem for animal-rights people. Not only are they beady-eyed and smelly, but they're pretty vicious carnivores. I think that they're all fascists of the sadistic-decadent-aristocrat type. (Except for the Martens, of course, the Anabaptist pacifist member of the family.)

There's a larger version of the marten called a fisher which I've seen in the wild (it's quite rare). It was in a populated area and seemed fearless, as raccoons also do. They can all kill dogs bigger than they are.

Posted by: Zizka at March 28, 2004 16:35

(Except for the Martens, of course, the Anabaptist pacifist member of the family.)

Luddites as well, judging by their propensity to disable cars.

Posted by: Mrs Tilton at March 29, 2004 9:04

[...] (so that you have wether, steer / ox, gelding [...]

Don't forget "bullock."

Posted by: Aidan Kehoe at March 29, 2004 12:05

Bullocks to that, Aidan.

Posted by: Mrs Tilton at March 29, 2004 13:34

"pretty vicious carnivores"

I used to have pet ferrets, and their favorite snacks were raisins [sultanas] and bananas. Cute li'l critters, with all the surly demeanor of a developmentally-disabled kitten.

Posted by: vaara at March 30, 2004 13:53

My friend Malcolm's band used to be called "Any of Several Weasels". FWIW

Posted by: Jeremy Osner at March 30, 2004 20:54

A friend of mine said that when he fogot to feed his ferret it would nip him really hard. He figured that eventually the ferret would have eaten him.

I read a story once about someone who died of a heart attack and stopped feeding his dogs. After a few days they started eating him. There's probably an ethology (?) experiment there.... how long before bonding unbonds and the love-object becomes reobjectified as meat?

It's not just Germans who eat human flesh. A jogger was partly eaten by a cougar in Colorado.

Posted by: Zizka at March 30, 2004 22:09

I guess I'm just a city boy - I know what a weasel is, and I know that minks are fairly serious animals, but I had only the dimmest knowledge of the marten.

I had to explain to a disbelieving cat owner once that cats are vicious nocturnal predators. This cat had presented its owner - as a gift in appreciation for all the food and affection it had received - the corpse of a freshly killed pigeon. Cats are pretty vicious. My cats still dream of taking down a bird, even though they have never had to hunt down anything more evasive than a can of Whiskas.

Posted by: Scott Martens at March 31, 2004 9:47

It's not just Germans who eat human flesh.

I'm not certain whether you are referring here to >a href="">Armin Meiwes, to Germans more generally or to German shepherds. If the third, on this side of the Atlantic they are called, in English, Alsatians, which these days would make the French anthropopages as well.

If the second, I'll have to watch my back.

Posted by: Mrs Tilton at March 31, 2004 15:30

Damn. Should have swapped out that > for a

Posted by: Mrs Tilton at March 31, 2004 15:31

Hmm... that last message got strangely truncated, by the pointy bracket it seems. Should have continued with the phrase '[pointy bracket going the other way] and closed the link', and an apology for the ugly scene failing to do caused.

Posted by: Mrs Tilton at March 31, 2004 15:34

I'm pretty sure he's referring to Armin Meiwes, and in Dutch they're Duitse herders, same as in American English.

Posted by: Scott Martens at March 31, 2004 17:52

Yeah, the Germans themselves call them deutsche Sch?ferhunde. I'd always wondered whether this was a subtle assertion of a revanchist claim on Alsace, but if the Dutch do it too then I suppose it's harmless.

Posted by: Mrs Tilton at March 31, 2004 19:02

Mrs. T; the OED has the following as its second definition for "Alsatian":

2. The registered Kennel Club name for the German Shepherd Dog (deutscher Schäferhund), formerly known as the Alsatian wolf-dog (occas. wolf-hound). The name Alsatian was adopted in order to avoid the associations of German. The dog does not belong to Alsace, nor is there a wolf strain in its composition.

1917 A. CROXTON SMITH in Ladies' Field 12 May 416/3 The French or Alsatian sheepdogs, which are now becoming familiarised to us. 1922 R. LEIGHTON Compl. Bk. Dog 119 The dogs lately introduced into Great Britain as the Alsatian Wolfdog and into the United States as the German sheepdog. Ibid. 120 The Alsatian was known in England before the war. 1923 [see WOLF-HOUND]. 1926 D. BROCKWELL (title) The Alsatian. Ibid. 25 The so-called Police Dog, or German Shepherd Dog,..variously known as the Alsatian Wolf Dog, Belgian Police Dog, and French Police Dog. 1948 C. L. B. HUBBARD Dogs in Britain xviii. 197 The breed [German Shepherd Dog], on its re-importation during 1918-1919, was named Alsatian Wolfdog.

Looks like "German shepherd" is the better name.

Posted by: Aidan Kehoe at April 2, 2004 8:41


ah that's fascinating. So the name 'Alsatian' would appear to be part of the same class that would manifest itself, in another time and place, as 'freedom fries'.

Posted by: Mrs Tilton at April 2, 2004 9:41

My Dutch relatives call themselves Hollanders. That's accurate, because "Dutch" in colloquial American English was generic for Germans and Hollanders both ("Dutch Schultz" was German). I've always suspected that they started calling thmselves "Hollanders" in 1914 (they immigrated ~1860).

But then a contemporary Dutch / Hollander told me we should really say "Netherlander".

Posted by: Zizka at April 2, 2004 23:46

Wow, Alsatians are the same thing as German shepherds? I must have come across dozens of mentions of them in P.G. Wodehouse novels, and never knew that. I figured they were small decorative dogs like all the other ones his characters have (Pug, Pom, Yorkie).

Posted by: Cryptic Ned at April 12, 2004 8:54

Alsatians are as German as Charolais cattle -- they LOST both those wars, remember? But they sure can breed animals.

But do martens really bite through car cables? Why do only Germans believe in it? Is it just folklore?

Posted by: She at May 9, 2006 17:57
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